First of all, everybody should relax. You’d think they were going to take John Unitas out of the Hall of Fame. The reaction to the launch of the XFL rivals the outcry of when baseball went on strike. The critics have been hot, the supporters a bit tepid.
It’s not the Lindbergh crossing, it’s not a man on the moon, it’s minor league football. Yes, it was heavy on television production, heavy on scantily clad women, heavy on yelling, tight shots and hand-held cameras but it’s not as if they’re invading the planet.
There is a market for spring football in the U.S.. The USFL showed that, and would have been successful if Donald Trump hadn’t killed it off by insisting on a move to the fall to go head-to-head with the NFL. The XFL is the latest incarnation of spring football. This time it’s WWF style. Well choreographed, well scripted and regrettably, not very well played. Some good camera angles, some television innovations that the NFL will eventually adopt to make their league more “fan friendly.”
If you tuned in to the XFL for football, you were disappointed. In fact, you tuned in for all of the wrong reasons. The pre-promotion promised something different, even something better. We did get something different, but certainly nothing better than what we know as professional football.
The quality of play was just above what we might see at any college stadium on a Saturday afternoon, but light years away from the level of competition in the NFL. But that’s not what the XFL is trying to do. They’re not trying to rival the NFL. Paying up to $50,000 in salary to the players is not going to attract any player capable of playing in the fall, or in Europe, or even in the Arena League. Players are in the XFL trying to get noticed. They’ve been rejected as potential players in the NFL, but want another chance. Some might prove the scouts wrong, but most will get their thrills, playing in what they’ll call a “professional” league, and be done with it.
When the USFL was launched, there was a large outcry that it would hurt the game. Stealing players from the NFL was somehow un-American. Spring football was stupid. Nobody will watch and certainly nobody would buy a ticket. That was before they played the games. Once they started, the quality of play wasn’t bad. Future NFL stars like Reggie White, Gary Clark, Jim Kelly and Steve Young were sprinkled throughout the USFL rosters. After a few weeks, it was clear, some teams were pretty good, and others were absolutely awful.
Which team in the XFL is the Washington Federals? Which is the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars? Are any?
The league can sustain itself on hype and flash for only so long. Actual football fans won’t be back if the games are similar to the Las Vegas/New York national debut. But that’s not who the XFL is trying to attract anyway. They’re looking for the wrestling fan to add another night to his or her routine. Monday Nitro, Thursday Thunder and now Saturday XFL.
The television ratings for the debut were phenomenal, but only early on. As the game raged on, the viewing public went elsewhere. Did they just tune out? Did they go somewhere else? Those are the questions researchers will be asking to see if the game attracted an entire new audience or just the passing fancy of the traditional sports fan. It was a huge entertainment package with football in the background. Is there anything the matter with that? No, but perhaps they should call it “Fressling” or “Wrasselball” instead.
Just remember, this is a league owned by the television networks and a promoter. It’s not a league that sprouted up and the television networks decided to cover it. There’s a big difference.
The product won’t satisfy people who want to see competition.
Those looking for something else will be just fine.