The XFL has once again risen from the ashes and is making a push to become a legitimate league in the US. Under its new leadership and innovation, not only can the XFL fill the void left after the NFL season, but it could potentially push their big brother league to innovate as well.
The COVID-19 pandemic seemed to be the final nail in the coffin for the cult classic league, but hope began rising when Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson and his business partner Danny Garcia purchased the league for $15 million in 2020.
Then, followed by a failed partnership with the Canadian Football League (CFL) that would have had the league running in 2022, any hope for the XFL to bounce back continued to dwindle. Johnson pushed back the relaunch of the XFL to Feb. 18, 2023, which ended up being the best move to deliver the best product for the fans.
From a team standpoint, it could help coaches and players develop plays and schemes that would be ready for game time. It also gave the league time to sign some familiar faces to football fans and gave Johnson, who has a huge following, time to promote the league.
Some notable players in the XFL include ex-Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron, controversial receiver Josh Gordon and Martavis Bryant who had a short, troubled stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Former NFL coaches Bob Stoops, Wade Phillips, Jonathan Hayes and Pep Hamilton have made their way to a coaching position in the XFL as well.
Also during this time, Johnson’s promotional run on social media and TV was unique and personal. He would go live while attending training camps and post about his visits, told his story of #54 and pushed the narrative that his goal for the league was to be a place of second chances.
While the buildup was genuine and piqued the interest of football fans, week one of the 2023 season was a mixed bag.
As for ratings, Vegas Vipers at Arlington Renegades aired on ABC, racking in 1.57 million viewers; Orlando Guardians at Houston Roughnecks’ aired on ESPN totaling 1.14 million viewers; and Seattle Sea Dragons at DC Defenders aired on ESPN and brought in 918,000 viewers.
Week one of the 2020 season put up better numbers.
The games were relatively low-scoring and featured some dull offenses. While that didn’t help on the consumer side of things, football nerds can appreciate the defenses that are being drawn up from NFL veterans.
Despite those criticisms, the main positives from week one are what can help solidify the XFL going forward and hopefully into a second season.
For starters, the open communication between officiating and viewers is pretty revolutionary. Whenever a call is being reviewed, the game cuts to Dean Blandino, the head of officiating and rules innovation, verbally walking through his thinking process, views from different camera angles, and explaining the rules right to the viewer.
Open communication has become a fan favorite from the start just by eliminating the wait. In the NFL, fans need to wait for NFL HQ to decide the ruling on the field which is followed by a decision without further explanation.
Another positive for the XFL are the rules. With essentially a running clock, shorter kickoffs and multiple options for a PAT, the game can swing in any team’s favor.
An example of these rules adding to the excitement occurred during the St. Louis Battlehawks-San Antonio Brahmas game. With only 1:25 left in the game, the Battlehawks were losing 3-15 to the Brahmas.
After scoring a touchdown and converting on the three-point conversion, the Battlehawks declined the onside kick option and instead chose to run a play on their own 25-yard line marked as 4th and 15. Miraculously, the Battlehawks were able to get the first down and claimed an 18-15 win in Week one.
If Johnson continues to lean into the innovation aspect that the XFL has over the NFL and even the USFL, the XFL will grow in popularity and talent.