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McMahon’s XFL sets to challenge NFL

December 7, 2018

WWE CEO Vince McMahon’s revived Xtreme Football League has filled out its opening roster of eight host cities, as more competitors seek to challenge the NFL’s gridiron supremacy.

XFL officials have announced teams for its inaugural 2020 season in New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Fla., and Washington, D.C. McMahon has positioned the league as a fast-paced alternative to the NFL, with the release of the team locations coming the same week as a group of former NFL players announced plans for another league.

“We’re really looking forward to establishing a very exciting, innovative form of football that quite frankly we’ve never seen before,” McMahon said at a press conference this week at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., to announce the new teams. “So much has changed in terms of the use of digital… What has not changed is the love of football.”

XFL officials said the eight teams will play a 10-game regular season, followed by playoffs that will include two semifinals and a championship game. The season would kick off the weekend following the 2020 Super Bowl.

The new squads will play in existing stadiums. The New York team will be based at MetLife Stadium, which is also the home of the NFL’s New York Giants and New York Jets.

XFL will not use WWE talent to fill its rosters, McMahon has said. But he has not ruled out former NFL players such as Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick joining the league if they abide by its rules and not have “any criminality.”

“The big question is whether the XFL can attract marquee players,” said Kevin McEvoy, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Connecticut. “What would make this really competitive is if there were enough money in the XFL to pull in players who would have otherwise gone to the NFL. They wouldn’t go to the XFL unless the money is there.”

Another proposed competition, the Freedom Football League, was also announced this week. Its 10 teams would include a “Connecticut Underground” squad, although the league’s website does not specify where the team would play.

FFL officials have not yet announced details about their league’s launch date or game scheduling. League investors include former NFL stars Jeff Garcia, Terrell Owens, Simeon Rice and Ricky Williams.

Some short-lived football teams outside the NFL have played in Connecticut. The United Football League’s Hartford Colonials lasted only one season in 2010.

XFL and FFL are planning their launches at a time when the NFL still generates huge TV audiences, but also faces growing challenges. Stamford-based NBC Sports Group’s Sunday Night Football’s viewership dropped 10 percent in the 2017 NFL regular season, but it still finished as the No. 1 primetime show for a record seventh-straight year.

So far in the 2018 season, SNF has averaged 19.8 million viewers, a 7 percent year-over-year increase.

“Since the money game is in broadcast rights rather than venue audience, the most important thing for the XFL would be to get broadcast streams going that sell to desirable demographics,” said Daniel Durbin, director of the University of Southern California’s Institute of Sports, Media and Society. “Here, they can challenge the NFL on one of its greatest weaknesses: The NFL continues to drive audiences back to traditional networks. The XFL could try to drive those audiences to streaming services.”

XFL will aim to improve on its first run, which lasted only one season. An estimated 14 million people watched the 2001 opener of the XFL — which was broadcast by NBC — but ratings soon tumbled.

Greenwich resident McMahon has said his XFL work would not change his role as Stamford-based WWE’s CEO. While he is spearheading XFL’s return, he is not the league’s main operations executive. Oliver Luck, a former NCAA executive vice president and father of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, is XFL CEO and commissioner.

pschott@scni.com; 203-964-2236; twitter: @paulschott

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