After a strong start and a sustained successful 5 weeks, the XFL followed every other major sports league in America, and canceled the remainder of it’s 2020 season. The league’s all-important inaugural season. The season by which all future XFL seasons would be measured.
But don’t compare it to the cancelation of the AAF last year. Apples and oranges, kids. Not even close. The XFL cancellation was spawned by the dreaded coronavirus, which of course is sweeping not just the nation, but the world. The AAF cancellation was as result of poor financial planning. The XFL’s owner, Vince McMahon has pledged at least $500M of his OWN fortune to the league, expecting that amount to support at least 3 seasons of the new league. The AAF was backed by initial investor Reggie Fowler, who lied about the viability of his investment, and was later arrested on bank fraud charges.
TV ratings and attendance of the XFL have been good. I was unable to speak to anyone with the league office (understandable considering the events of the last 2 days), but all things indicate the league was happy with the numbers. Ticket sales, TV ratings, advertising dollars. Happy. That’s a good sign. Especially for a league that seems to have a 3-yr initial plan.
So, what becomes of those XFL players now? Some of which (PJ Walker, Cam Phillips, Donald Parham, Josh Johnson to name a few) were becoming household names outside of the league? The XFL will allow any player who chooses to do so and who has the opportunity, to sign with an NFL team. After all, that’s really the dream of all 568 players who are part of the league as of today. Every player’s XFL contract runs through May 31. Of course, now that’s nullified by the cancellation of the season, basically making all players free agents as of today.
They league is still paying every XFL player their base salaries and benefits until the end of their contract date, which is both fair and spectacular, considering this is a startup league with very little “extra funding” with no game revenue coming in. But cheers to the league for doing that.
The problem with players becoming free agents and potentially signing with NFL teams? When the league began, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome was name recognition. Or lack thereof. Most XFL fans had NO idea who the majority of the players were. That’s tough when you’re wanting to cheer for your local team. As the season went on of course, that name recognition between fans and players was an important part of the success of the league and individual teams. Houston fans rallied around PJ Walker, who most likely would’ve won league MVP. NY fans were rallying around Josh Johnson at QB. Bright spots within the Dallas organization were TE Donald Parham, and RBs Lance Dunbar (a former Dallas Cowboy) and Cameron Artis-Payne (who also served time in the NFL).
Another hurdle for the league was the perceived level of play. These were obviously not NFL caliber players, evident by the fact they were NOT in the NFL. But again, as the league went on week to week, the level of play became less of an issue, as the players all showed they could play together to create a great brand of football. One that could be sustained.
But what happens to the league and the interest achieved by fans, when those players move on, and now we have to start over with new names and faces for 2021? I supposed we can get over it, like we did when the league began. But it will be a huge hurdle. And it will remain one every year if the league cannot retain some of the standouts and keep them from the NFL (seems impossible if there is NFL interest in a player).
But Vince McMahon has a plan. And it’s a good one. And a sustainable one. And I for one, am interested in seeing that plan work. I’ll be here for season 2 of the XFL, regardless of the names on the backs of the jerseys. After all, I’m a Renegades fan. And an XFL fan. See you in 2021, XFL.