“Outside the Pocket” is a column by Sam Arslanian about sports.
The second iteration of the XFL has come and gone. After just five weeks of competition, the league halted play, its parent company filed for bankruptcy and put the league up for sale.
Unlike its trainwreck counterparts, the XFL 2.0 didn’t die because of clueless management, poor attendance or peewee-grade football. It died because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has forced mass layoffs and shutdowns in almost every sector of business across America.
I never thought I would experience a complete global shutdown of professional and collegiate sports in my lifetime. The athletics industry is too big and powerful to stop for anyone or anything. At least that’s what I thought two months ago.
The reality is that March Madness will be back. The NBA, MLB, NHL and NCAA will be back before long. The XFL won’t.
That is an injustice. That is not fair.
This iteration of Vince McMahon’s pet project was the best chance since the AFL at forming a secondary football league in America. The 2020 XFL had everything it needed to succeed: good TV deals with solid viewership, decent attendance across the league and a unique quality product.
At the Los Angeles Wildcats’ first press conference, commissioner Oliver Luck repeatedly ensured reporters that the XFL was not trying to take over or be the NFL — it was its own league. The product reflected that.
After the XFL announced its mass layoffs, Twitter split into two groups. The majority said they were sad to see the league go and cherished what the XFL was able to accomplish in the month-and-a-half it stayed afloat.
The other half — the NFL fanboys — used this as another data point in their argument that there is no place for another football league in America. That reaction left me baffled and angered.
How insensitive can you be? Everyone on staff besides a handful of executives are now unemployed. If you consider yourself a football fan you should have backed the XFL — it was only going to help the NFL.
Even in the short season, the XFL identified a lot of overlooked talent that ended up signing NFL contracts. It also gave us a look at potential rule or gameplay changes. The XFL positioned itself in the market perfectly.
I was fortunate enough to cover two LA Wildcats games. While I was working, I got to view the XFL from behind the scenes.
Gameday operations were not the most polished I have experienced in my short career as a sports reporter, but the XFL did a really solid job of covering up its flaws for a startup league. On the other hand, the XFL fan experience was second to none. Who doesn’t want to hear the quarterback call audibles over the loudspeakers before the snap or have the players stop at the tailgate before the game?
In my first story about the XFL, I set out to understand who an XFL fan is. They were a healthy mix of families, people that were fed up with the NFL and friends looking to have a good time. Above all, every fan I spoke to simply loved football — poetically aligning with the XFL’s motto “For the Love of Football.”
The XFL was never going to take over the NFL. It was never going to have the viewership, talent level or allegiance of the NFL. But that wasn’t the point.
The point was to create a great spring alternative to satisfy the intense craving for football during a lull. It accomplished that.
The XFL would have survived, and that’s the worst part. It was the future of spring football.
This was it, and now it’s gone.
“Outside the Pocket” runs every other Tuesday.