Back before its current iteration, which returned to the gridiron in 2020, the XFL was a one-year venture that both launched and failed spectacularly. ESPN Films 30 for 30 This Was the XFL covers the short rise and fall of the Dick Ebersol and Vince McMahon backed league.
How to Watch ‘This Was the XFL’ Online
Every film in the complete 30 for 30 library, including This Was the XFL, can be watched with a subscription to ESPN+.
Once signed up for ESPN+, you can watch This Was the XFL on your computer via the ESPN website, or you can watch on your phone (iOS or Android), tablet, Roku, Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Xbox One or other compatible streaming device via the ESPN app.
‘This Was the XFL’ 30 for 30 Preview
The XFL was the brainchild of NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol and wrestling tycoon Vince McMahon. For Ebersol, it was meant to fill the void for NBC after losing the rights to the NFL. For McMahon, well, he just liked to put on a good show.
Here’s the full summary of the film, per IMBD: A bold challenge, a fearless experiment and ultimately, a spectacular failure. In 2001, sports entertainment titans Ebersol and McMahon launched the XFL. It was hardly the first time a league had tried to compete with the NFL, but the brash audacity of the bid, combined with the personalities and charisma of Ebersol and McMahon and the marketing behemoths of their respective companies – NBC and WWE – captured headlines and a sense of undeniable anticipation about what was to come. Bringing together a cast of characters ranging from the boardrooms of General Electric to the practice fields of Las Vegas, “This Was the XFL” is the tale of – yes – all that went wrong, but also, how the XFL ended up influencing the way professional team sports are broadcast today.
And at the center of it all – a decades long friendship between one of the most significant television executives in media history and the one-of-a-kind WWE impresario. This film will explore how Ebersol and McMahon brought the XFL to life, and why they had to let it go.
Interestingly enough, the documentary is directed by Charlie Ebersol, who would go on to become the CEO of the Alliance of American Football — another start-up football league that went down in flames in 2019.
“My memory of the XFL was how much fun it was and how zany and how out of this world the whole experience was,” Charlie Ebersol told Bleacher Report. “I knew [making the film] was going to be crazy. But then the other side of it…interviewing my father and Vince—my dad is quite literally my father and Vince a father figure to me—was absolutely terrifying.”
The league featured plenty of wrestling-esque gimmicks, including players being allowed to put nicknames on their jerseys. That included names like: Death Blow, Dirty Durden and He Hate Me. And quite frankly, the league seemed more interested in the cheerleaders outfits than the brand of football on the field.
Onetime NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer might have summarized the failure of the league best in the film.
“It all goes back to the success of our promotion and the failure of our execution,” Schanzer said. “You just can’t do that.”
The league drew 14 million viewers for its primetime opener in 2001, but it wouldn’t last. The novelty wore off and people were disinterested.
“For the XFL, for all that’s said about them not really having a full understanding of what they were trying to do, Vince clearly saw the need for someone to come in and offer a type of football that was more reminiscent of the old way and less corporately driven,” Ebersol said. “And I think those initial numbers that first weekend proved that thesis out. I do think his confidence is not misplaced.”
After the documentary debuted, the XFL made its triumphant return in 2020, minus many of the things that made it seem gimmicky in its first iteration. McMahon, however, decided to still keep the name of his former league.
“Quite frankly I looked at a number of things, but nothing resonated like the XFL. There’s only so many things that have ‘FL’ on the end of them and those are already taken. But we aren’t going to have much of what the XFL had, including the cheerleaders, who aren’t really part of the game anymore. The audience wants entertainment with football, and that’s what we are going to give them.”
McMahon reportedly pumped around $400 million of his own money into the league.
“I wanted to do this since the day we stopped the other one,” McMahon told ESPN in an exclusive interview. “A chance to do it with no partners, strictly funded by me, which would allow me to look in the mirror and say, ‘You were the one who screwed this up,’ or ‘You made this thing a success.'”
McMahon stepped back from the spotlight and instead hired experienced NCAA executive Oliver Luck to be the commissioner.
It gave fans unfiltered access to the game during replay reviews, sideline interviews and other insight. The XFL also embraced the gambling market, something the NFL has been relatively slow to take up. The league saw solid ratings in its first week and was able to hang on before the season was canceled due to coronavirus concerns. While cut short, the XFL announced it was planning to return for 2021. There was plenty of talent to go around, with many of the XFL players eventually landing gigs in the NFL.
What Other Content is on ESPN+?
Name a sport, and it’s probably on ESPN+ at some point throughout the year:
- UFC: Most “Fight Night” events are on ESPN+, while PPV events can be ordered through ESPN+
- International Soccer: ESPN+ has exclusive rights to all Serie A, FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Copa del Rey matches in the US. Also includes EFL, Coppa Italia, Copa America, A-League, Dutch Eredivisie, Indian Super League, W-League and more
- Boxing: Dozens of Top Rank fights, which includes Vasyl Lomachenko and Tyson Fury
- College Sports: Hundreds of football and men’s and women’s basketball games (including many Big 12 games), as well as lacrosse, hockey, wrestling, volleyball, softball, baseball, swimming, gymnastics and more
- Tennis: Grand Slam events, including exclusive coverage of every Wimbledon and US Open match not televised on the ESPN or ESPN2
- International cricket: Matches featuring New Zealand, India and others
- International Rugby: Including Guinness PRO14 and Super Rugby matches
- MLB: One daily out-of-market game
- NHL: One daily out-of-market game
- MLS: All out-of-market matches
Other Documentaries & Films
Other ESPN documentaries and films that aren’t included in the actual 30-for-30 series are also available on ESPN+, including D. Wade: Life Unexpected, Venus vs, The ’99ers and others.
The list of ESPN+ originals continues to grow. It includes Peyton’s Places, The Boardroom with Kevin Durant, NBA Rooks, Ariel & The Bad Guy, The Fantasy Show and Alex Morgan: The Equalizer.
UFC On-Demand Library
In addition to live UFC events, ESPN+ also features a vast library of past fights you can watch. This includes classics from Conor McGregor, Anderson Silva, Michael Bisping, Brock Lesnar, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Nick Diaz, Nate Diaz, Frank Mir and others. You can find a complete rundown of the ESPN+ UFC library here.
READ NEXT: How to Watch UFC on ESPN Plus
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