Bad idea, revisited: McMahon announces 2020 return for XFL

xflVince McMahon confirmed weeks of speculation Thursday, announcing the return of a curiously gimmick-free, and likely also talent- and entertainment-value-free, XFL in 2020.

McMahon, the chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment, said in announcing the return of the pro football league, which operated for one season, in 2001, before shutting its doors as a $70 million loss for McMahon and broadcast partner NBC, that he will be the sole source of funding for the venture, which might be the first indication to its lack of long-term viability.

The plans are for an eight-team league, with 40-man active rosters and a 10-week regular season that would conclude with playoffs consisting of two semifinal games and a championship game.

The initial outlay for the league is expected to be around $100 million, roughly the value of the stock in WWE that McMahon sold last month to seed Alpha Entertainment, the company that he founded for the project.

The announcement was light on business plans and heavy on aesthetics, such as the running time for games – McMahon, constantly under fire from wrestling fans for the three-hour-plus run time for WWE’s flagship weekly TV show, “Monday Night Raw,” said the ideal running time for XFL games will be around two hours.

“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 told ESPN.

Just how much entertainment value the new XFL will be able to offer fans is the big question. Even with gimmicks like the opening scramble, no fair catches and unlimited bump-and-run coverage, and the cheerleaders dressed like strippers on the sidelines, the original XFL failed due to the abysmally poor product on the field.

With $100 million to play with for the whole operation, you’re looking at roughly 60 percent of the single-year salary cap for a single NFL team, and that’s not even accounting for the dollars that the XFL will have to outlay for support personnel, facility rental, TV production and various and sundry other line items.

Another way to put that: the XFL is not going to feature a single player who has even a sliver of a chance of playing in the NFL.

Here’s how you can guarantee this will be the case: in addition to the fact that the league will be severely undercapitalized just in general, McMahon’s grand idea for dealing with player salaries is to have them hinge on wins and losses.

“To me that’s common sense,” McMahon told ESPN. “Everyone in America lives when they perform, they get a raise or bonus. That’s capitalism.”

Actually, capitalism is more about business models working or not working, McMahon seems to think that giving the new XFL a two-year startup phase is the most important feature in terms of determining its potential for success.

The focus for the next year will apparently be on the production and broadcast rights sides of the ledger, with rosters coming into shape, such as you can say that with a straight face, in 2019.

The NFL has nothing to worry about. To be blunt about it, Arena Football has nothing to worry about.

Story by Chris Graham

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