Unlike the AAF, money will be the least of this league's worries
The reborn XFL will kick off on Feb. 8, the week following Super Bowl LIV. When that day comes, it will also mark one year and one day since the Alliance of American Football began its short-lived, 10-week season. Because of that, both leagues constantly draw comparisons to one another.
Until the XFL can prove that it can succeed and sustain, the comparisons to the AAF, and the reminders of 2001, will never go away. Ultimately it will be TV ratings, revenue, and the quality of play on the field that will determine the league's long-term success.
In addition to the failure of the AAF, the Arena Football League folded in 2019 after 33 years of operation where money was also an issue. The XFL certainly has an uphill climb ahead of it, but here are five reasons why I believe that XFL 2.0 can succeed.
If the XFL doesn't continue beyond 2020, it certainly won't be for a lack of finances. Vince McMahon funded his rebooted league through his second company, Alpha Entertainment, which raised its capital by McMahon selling a multitude of his shares of WWE stock. Forbes lists McMahon's net worth at $2.6 billion, and McMahon has always been credited for his business acumen, so money will be the least of the XFL's concerns. The original XFL also was on solid financial ground; it was the over-the-top entertainment aspect and gimmicks that played the biggest role in its downfall.
I don't doubt that McMahon also took lessons from the AAF, which struggled with funding from the start. Seeing how the AAF essentially bankrupted itself over those 10 weeks, McMahon won't let cash flow become a problem. Sponsors — another aspect that the AAF didn't have much of — can also help in this regard.
2. Strong media partners
For this XFL run, McMahon has partnered with FOX and ABC/ESPN, who will broadcast the 2020 XFL season and make it easy for fans to watch. What's significant about this partnership is that both networks carry the NFL (FOX will carry Super Bowl LIV) and provide the bulk of our annual college football viewing. And with the season starting the weekend after the Super Bowl, the XFL is hoping to latch onto that audience.
The original XFL did not have nearly the national audience, as it was carried by NBC, UPN, and The National Network (now known as Paramount Network). At that time NBC wasn't in the NFL business. In fact, the only football that it was broadcasting back then was Notre Dame and the Gator Bowl. UPN and TNN were only onboard because those channels were the home for WWE programming, although TNN was also carrying the Arena Football League. Even when the XFL was playing on NBC, it was a regional setup in which two games were broadcast in the same time slot. Where you lived dictated what game you saw. Streaming and social media is a present advantage that didn't exist back in 2001.
This time around, the league will be broadcasting four games per week, so every game will get equal viewing. While the AAF had national television exposure, games were mostly on secondary networks. The league's biggest partner was CBS, and while opening night was showcased on the main CBS channel (albeit with the dreaded regional split), the rest of that package was carried on CBS Sports Network until the league shut down. CBSSN isn't available as a basic channel on some providers and therefore comes at an extra cost. The AAF was also partnered with Turner Sports, but the bulk of those games were carried on their B/R Live streaming service.
The NFL Network also carried AAF games, but like CBSSN, NFLN also requires viewers on some systems to pay extra. Not to mention the fact that they've also had service issues with some providers.
3. Team locations
For this season, each XFL team is located in an NFL market. The Los Angeles Wildcats and New York Guardians are giving the XFL its second tour in the nation's two top media markets. This will be the XFL's first go-round in Texas with the Dallas Renegades and Houston Roughnecks, while fans in Washington (Defenders) and Tampa (Vipers) are looking for a fresh start after seeing their NFL teams struggle in recent seasons. St. Louis (BattleHawks) will be resuming its history with pro football, while Seattle (Dragons) hopes to have another winning team in the city.
The 2001 XFL did have teams in Chicago (Enforcers) and San Francisco (Demons), which are the biggest markets missing this time around. In addition to Los Angeles (Xtreme) and New York City (Hitmen), they also had a team in Las Vegas (Outlaws), and like the AAF, they also had teams in Orlando (Rage), Memphis (Maniax), and Birmingham (Bolts). Sustainability seems to be an issue with smaller market teams in smaller leagues, especially in cities that have never had an NFL franchise. But perhaps the XFL is on to something by focusing its efforts in markets where the NFL has a strong history.
4. Commissioner Oliver Luck
Hiring Luck, a proven football mind, is the best decision that McMahon has made thus far in rebuilding the XFL. In the original XFL, McMahon was hands-on with everything from the day-to-day operations to the game broadcasts. He even used WWE employees in some positions. This time, however, McMahon has given the football operations to Luck (Andrew's father) who has hit the ground running. He has a proven track record of success and has put together a long resume of various decision making positions in both the pro and college ranks since retiring from his pro career in 1986. I'm looking forward to seeing how the on-field product turns out.
5. Big-name head coaches
The eight coaches that Luck hired for the 2020 campaign all have proven track records as both head coaches and assistants at both the pro and college levels. Even a brief description of what each coach has accomplished is impressive. New York's Kevin Gilbride won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants, and DC's Pep Hamilton has coached the likes of Alex Smith, Jay Cutler, Andrew Luck, and Chad Pennington. St. Louis' Jonathan Hayes spent 16 years as the right-hand man of Marvin Lewis with the Cincinnati Bengals, while Tampa Bay's Marc Trestman is a respected play-caller and quarterback coach. Dallas' Bob Stoops built the Oklahoma Sooners program into what it is today, while Los Angeles' Winston Moss is known for his defensive acumen after nearly two decades as a key NFL defensive assistant. Houston's June Jones has engineered high-powered offenses in the NFL, CFL, and the NCAA, while Seattle's Jim Zorn helped build pro football in that city. That's quite a remarkable list.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.