Television ratings for the N.F.L. have fallen 17 percent over the past two seasons. The league is embroiled in a continuing crisis over concussions, and youth participation rates are falling.
All of this suggests a difficult future for the sport, yet the N.F.L.’s most notorious competitor, Vince McMahon’s XFL, has a comeback in the works.
McMahon, the chairman and chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment, announced on Thursday that he would take a second crack at professional football, with play scheduled to start in early 2020, reports ESPN.
McMahon first tried to reimagine pro football 17 years ago. The old XFL was a joint venture between the World Wrestling Federation (W.W.E.’s former name) and NBC, which had lost rights to broadcast N.F.L. games.
Violence was amped up: An opening scramble replaced the coin toss and fair catches were banned. So was the sex appeal, with cheerleaders who were even more scantily clad than the ones in the N.F.L., and advertising that included innuendo about them.
“Where is my smash-mouth, wide-open football?” McMahon asked rhetorically at the news conference announcing plans for the original XFL “This will not be a league for pantywaists and sissies.”
After the league drew huge television ratings its first week, disorganization plagued the operation, and fans became disenchanted by the confusing, sloppy brand of football played by inferior players. The league collapsed after just one season, with NBC and the W.W.F. losing tens of millions of dollars. Four years later NBC paid $3 billion to get back into the N.F.L.
Now McMahon says he wants to reimagine the game. “Not reinvent,” he said in an interview last week. “It’s football. But you want to reimagine it.”
Other than the name, this version will have little in common with the old XFL, he said.
There will be no cheerleaders, McMahon said. Players with criminal records will not be welcome. Political statements, such as kneeling during the national anthem, will be prohibited.
McMahon said he is the sole funding source for the league, which is slated to begin in January 2020. Its first season will have eight teams around the country playing a 10-week schedule. The initial outlay of money is expected to be around $100 million, the same amount of WWE stock McMahon sold last month and funneled into Alpha Entertainment, the company he founded for the project.
“I wanted to do this since the day we stopped the other one,” McMahon told ESPN in an exclusive interview. “A chance to do it with no partners, strictly funded by me, which would allow me to look in the mirror and say, ‘You were the one who screwed this up,’ or ‘You made this thing a success.'”
McMahon told reporters on Thursday afternoon that he has had no initial talks with media entities.
One mark of the new league, McMahon said, will be faster games. The ideal running time, he said, would be two hours.
As for the timing of the announcement, two years before the league’s debut, many might point to McMahon’s relationship with President Donald Trump, who this fall criticized the NFL for allowing its players to kneel and sit during the national anthem.
McMahon said players in his league will not be given the forum to take a personal stance while on the playing field. McMahon’s wife, Linda, heads the Small Business Administration in Trump’s Cabinet.
Here’s some highlights from the first season of the original XFL.
Mr Americana, Overpasses News Desk
January 26, 2018