WWE owner Vince McMahon has announced he is returning to the pro football business, revealing that the XFL is coming back.
“The new XFL will kick off in 2020 and quite frankly, we’re going to give the game of football back to the fans,” McMahon said Thursday during his announcement. “I’m sure everyone has a lot of questions for me, but I also have a lot of questions for you. In fact, we’re going to ask a lot of questions and listen to players, coaches, we’re going to listen to medical experts, technology experts, members of the media and anyone else who understands and loves the game of football. But most importantly we’re going to be listening to fans. So I’d ask that, the question of what would you do if you could re-imagine the game of professional football?”
McMahon continued, “Would you, for instance, eliminate halftime? Would you have fewer commercial breaks? Would the game of football be faster? Would the rules be simpler? The new XFL will be fan-centric with all the things you like to see and less of the things you don’t. And no doubt a lot of innovations along the way. We will present a shorter, faster paced, family friendly and easier to understand game. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still football, but it’s professional football re-imagined.”
The announcement comes nearly 17 years after the original XFL folded after one season. The XFL debuted in 2001 as a joint venture between the WWE and NBC. According to ESPN, WWE and NBC lost about $35 million each, after taxes, on the league.
McMahon said they will be re-imagining the way that the games are presented and did not detail any agreements with media companies. “We just know there is interest there,” he said. McMahon also did not announce where the teams will be located. All eight teams will be owned by McMahon and the league, unlike the NFL’s franchise model.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. McMahon Sold $100 Million in WWE Stock to Start the League’s Parent Company in December
Freelance journalist Brad Shepard first broke the story on December 15 that McMahon was going to announce the return of the XFL on January 25.
Vince McMahon sold $100 million worth of WWE stock in December to fund Alpha Entertainment LLC, “which Mr. McMahon established to explore investment opportunities across the sports and entertainment landscapes, including professional football,” a spokesperson told ESPN.
While McMahon and Alpha Entertainment have stressed that the company is not connected to the WWE, McMahon wont have to travel far from the wrestling giant’s Stamford, Connecticut, headquarters, to his Alpha office. According to the company’s website, Alpha Entertainment is located at 1266 East Main Street, right across the road from WWE’s headquarters at 1241 East Main Street.
“Vince McMahon has established and is personally funding a separate entity from WWE, Alpha Entertainment, to explore investment opportunities across the sports and entertainment landscapes, including professional football. Mr. McMahon has nothing further to announce at this time,” WWE said in a statement on December 16.
According to Forbes, McMahon’s sale of 3.34 million shares of WWE stock led to a 3 percent drop in its value, to $30.80. Forbes reports that the WWE has eclipsed all-time highs in 2018 and is in negotiations for a new television rights deal.
McMahon said Thursday he will continue to be the chairman of the board and CEO of the WWE and will not be changing his role. As for WWE crossover, McMahon said there will not be any in terms of “talent or anything like that” from the WWE to the new XFL. That is a change from the original XFL, where on-air talent, like announcers, and behind the scenes crews were shared by the WWE with the football league.
McMahon told reporters the $100 million initial investment was “too rich” for WWE.
2. Like the Original XFL, McMahon Hopes to Start the New League With 8 Teams & a 10-Game Season
The original XFL had eight teams: the Orlando Rage, Chicago Enforcers, New York/New Jersey Hitmen, Birmingham Thunderbolts, Los Angeles Xtreme, San Francisco Demons, Memphis Maniax and Las Vegas Outlaws. The Los Angeles Xtreme defeated the San Francisco Demons in the championship game with breakout Xtreme star Tommy Maddox winning the first and only league MVP award.
At least one of those cities has expressed interest in being a part of a new league run by McMahon. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer’s office told the Orlando Sentinel, “this is something we would be interested in learning more about to bring to Orlando.”
Vince McMahon said Thursday that they hope to start “conservatively” with eight teams and 40-man rosters. There would be a 10 game regular season and a post-season featuring two semifinal games and a championship game.
He said, “You want to play football where football is played, in stadium. There may be a situation where we may play in a baseball stadium or something like that if the football stadium is not available in that market. But nonetheless the intent is to play most specifically where a lot of the other teams play. … Every city is on our radar.”
McMahon said Thursday, “Our approach to presenting games will be multi-platform, which will allow to engage fans and customize the viewing experience in ways that were never imaginable just a few years ago. You’ll be able to watch the XFL on big screens, mobile devices and everything in between.”
He said the season will start between late January and early February.
McMahon also addressed the concussion issue that the NFL and football in general face.
“Re-imagining the game of football means you are re-imaging on all levels, as well as safety, and that’s what we will do to make it as safe as possible, it’s still football, but as safe as possible,” McMahon said. “We’re going to bring in experts who’re going to help us. We’re going to listen to those medical professionals and heed their advice to make it as safe as possible.”
3. Interest in the XFL Was Reinvigorated After an ESPN ’30 for 30′ Documentary on the League Aired Last Year
Interest in the league was reinvigorated last year by an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary directed by Charlie Ebersol, the son of NBC’s Dick Ebersol, who partnered with McMahon on the original XFL project.
Charlie Ebersol told Fast Company last year that the XFL was actually a success in some ways.
“The underpinnings of the XFL business model wasn’t a failure at all,” he told the magazine. “The XFL created all of these technologies that we see in the NFL today–the Skycam, interviewing players during the game, mic’ing players . . . None of that existed before the XFL. But I also didn’t realize how brilliant the deal was between WWE and NBC. NBC invested in WWE as part of the deal, so WWE got a cash infusion, and NBC got a piece that turned out to be worth hundreds of millions. This turned out to be a profitable venture.”
Charlie Ebersol said the XFL’s biggest failure was rushing to start its first and only season.
“The biggest mistake they made with the XFL was that they only gave the players 30 days to train together as a team. You had guys who were working at Bed Bath and Beyond, and thirty days later they’re in the XFL,” he said in the February 2017 interview. “They spent six to eight months marketing the league, and thirty days training the players. If they’d done four and four… They sold this thing like it was the iPhone, and they rolled it out like it was whatever piece of crap Motorola put out.”
McMahon said Thursday that a 2020 start date will give them “plenty of time” to get things right this time around.
4. McMahon Smells ‘Blood in the Water’ Because of Political Issues Facing the NFL, a Source Told TMZ
A source told TMZ that McMahon “sees blood in the water,” because of issues surrounding the NFL, including dipping TV ratings, the Trump-fueled National Anthem controversy and other criticism from Trump and his supporters.
Charlie Ebersol predicted McMahon’s return to football.
“I think it’s going to happen,” he told Fast Company last February. “The reason the XFL came into existence is because Vince McMahon is a wild man who really fundamentally understands marketing, and my father a year and a half earlier told the NFL that there was no way he was going to agree to lose money every year for rights. My core belief is that, given how out control rights fees have gotten, people are going to realize the value of owning a league. Jerry Jones has a big, beautiful stadium that is effectively empty 44 weekends a year. The need for a league is extraordinary high in that regard.”
McMahon said Thursday, “football is America’s favorite sport. There are seven months of no football on the gridiron and there are 70 million fans, so why not now. Now is a perfect opportunity and I’ve always wanted to bring it back.”
He downplayed the idea that the political issues surrounding the NFL played a factor in his timing.
“I’ve always wanted to relaunch and had this plan for sometime,” McMahon said.
He told ESPN, “The start of this league has nothing to do with the NFL’s troubles. “What has happened there is their business, and I’m not going to knock those guys, but I am going to learn from their mistakes as anyone would if they were tasked with re-imagining a new football league.”
But McMahon did tell ESPN, “People don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained. We want someone who wants to take a knee to do their version of that on their personal time.” He said as the owner of all the teams, “I can say, ‘Here are the rules, and as long as you are playing football in the stadium for us, you follow these rules.'”
When asked by a reporter if Trump would support the new XFL, McMahon said he has no idea, but added, “As for as our league is concerned, it will have nothing to do with politics. Absolutely nothing and nothing to do with social issues either. We’re there to play football. Really good football. And I think that’s what fans want as well when they tune in.”
He later expanded on the National Anthem issue during his press conference when asked how he would keep politics out of the game and whether he would suspend players for expressing their beliefs.
“You know the rules and regulations, there will be a booklet, whatever it is we can do, to make sure that all the players understand the rules, as well as everyone else. We intend for everyone to abide by those rules,” McMahon said. “As far as the National Anthem is concerned, I think this, the National Anthem is a time-honored tradition that is played to this day and many, many years in the past prior to most athletic events in our country and other countries. So whatever our rules are is what everyone is going to abide by and there’s plenty of opportunity and plenty of ways in which players, coaches, members of the media can express yourselves in terms of your own personal views, as far as social aspects are concerned, whether or not it’s Twitter or Facebook or whatever. But again, we’re here to play football. When we come onto the field, we are here to play football, that’s everyone’s job.”
5. Twitter Users Want Johnny Manziel & Tim Tebow Join the League, While Many Are Hoping for the Return of ‘He Hate Me’
Speculation about who could play in the new league has been rampant on Twitter, with many people anticipating the return of Johnny Manziel and Tim Tebow to the pro football scene. More controversial former NFL players, like Greg Hardy, have also been mentioned.
While Tebow could join the league, as of now, Manziel and Hardy, who both have criminal records, would not be eligible.
“We are evaluating a player based on many things, including the quality of human being they are,” Vince McMahon told ESPN. If you have any sort of criminal record or commit a crime you aren’t playing in this league.”
During his announcement Thursday, Vince McMahon said “there is a wealth of talent” that the new XFL can draw from. “In the XFL, the quality of the human being is going to be as important as the quality of the player.”
He said “the most important thing we that learned with the old XFL and now the new XFL is the quality of play, quite frankly, really had a short time in the past to put everything together. We have two years now to really get it all right.”
Others have expressed hope that one of the most recognizable stars of the original XFL, Rod “He Hate Me” Smart, while somehow be involved in the new league.
The WWE trademarked the phrase “He Hate Me” in December 2017, according to the legal site Justia. McMahon said he is not sure if nicknames on jerseys and the individuality that led to the “He Hate Me” nickname will be part of the new XFL.
“We’re not there yet,” he said. “But it’s amazing that people remember that. Rod Smart, the player, ‘He Hate Me,’ that was extraordinary. We’re going to listen to what the audience, what fans want.”