Tim Benz: XFL 2.0 isn't a 0.0, but it isn't good
What will the XFL stand for this time? Maybe: Xtra Failed League?
WWE icon Vince McMahon announced Thursday that he is rebooting the XFL.
The already-once-failed professional football league starts in 2020. It'll have eight teams. We don't know where yet. They all will be independent franchises.
The last time McMahon tried the XFL, it started in February 2001. It ended in April 2001.
Since we are revisiting horrible mishaps from the early 2000s, what's coming back next? Hanging chads? Enron? Derek Bell?
For a guy who “gets it,” McMahon just doesn't get it. The idea of a second major pro football league looks and sounds as old as McMahon himself did Thursday. None of them last.
McMahon is 72 years old now. His pro wrestling brand, WWE, rose to magnificent plateaus of popularity and economic success.
The XFL was an unmitigated failure, however. Maybe the WWE chairman simply wants one more swing at something he whiffed on previously.
Understood. But this attempt will crash, too. Just like that XFL blimp did in Oakland the first time around.
To be fair, some of McMahon's ideas for XFL 2.0 aren't bad. Based on the league video , McMahon is shortening the rule book, embracing gambling, ditching halftime and restricting games to two hours in length.
Also, it appears he has learned from the last experiment. He said the emphasis this time around will be more about the quality of play and less about the production.
Furthermore, McMahon claims he'll be absent as the face of the product, and there will be zero overlap with wrestling.
On one hand, that's smart. On the other, isn't that what some of his fans want?
One thing McMahon does understand, though, is who those fans could be. During his video-streamed teleconference Thursday, McMahon did everything but show up in a red Make America Great Again hat.
The XFL clearly is trying to appeal to the “disenfranchised” pro football fan.
• The fan who hates anthem protests — McMahon stopped short of saying that standing at attention for the anthem would be mandated. But it sure sounded like he wants it to be, repeatedly referring to it as a “time-honored tradition.”
• The fan who hates players who have a criminal past — McMahon said no one with even a DUI will be allowed to play.
Sorry, Le'Veon Bell. You aren't good enough for the XFL. Guess you'll have to come up with a new “Plan B” to avoid retirement if the Steelers really do franchise tag you again.
• The fan who doesn't like social media hype or distractions — “When we come on the field, we are here to play football. That's everyone's job.”
You get the picture of the core audience that McMahon is targeting here. Fans who can't relate to NFL players. Fans who hold the players to a higher standard than the Average Joes they claim to be themselves. And fans who reject the players' politics if they are opposite of their own.
“We are going to give the game of football back to the fans,” McMahon said. “The new XFL will be fan-centric with all the things you like to see and less of the things you don't.”
Yet the new XFL already is facing an identity crisis, and it's not even 24 hours old. On the one hand, the league appears to be pandering to the old-school, red blooded, “back in my day,” shot-and-a-beer types.
Out of one corner of his mouth, McMahon was crowing about how fans will be able to “reimagine” getting their “game back” at a faster pace with fewer penalties.
Yet he then started preening about how they'll make the players safer, too. Maybe an olive branch to the liberal soccer moms in the audience from ol' Vince?
Another inconsistency is that the most appealing aspect of the XFL the first time around was its “renegade” attitude. The players were bad boys. They had nicknames on the backs of their jerseys that, um, middle-aged “Middle America” sometimes didn't get. But young kids (i.e. wrestling fans) did. The game intentionally was presented as more violent. Some of the broadcasters were wrestling guys.
Now it looks like McMahon is trying to have it both ways: more stodgy and old school. But also more hip and edgy.
Good luck with that.
McMahon denied this notion when asked, but this is nothing more than blatant opportunism. An attempt to capitalize on the NFL while it's in a down cycle.
Forget McMahon's infamous “ THIS IS THE X ... F ... L ” from '01. McMahon should just try to say, “THIS IS ... NOT ... THE N ... F ... L.”
Why not? Some of his fans aren't smart enough to realize wrestling is bogus. Maybe they won't realize this version of football is bogus, too.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.