by Evan Bruner
There are few things Americans enjoy more than watching football. Every Saturday and Sunday throughout the fall, millions of fans turn on the TV to watch their favorite teams play. Even events that don’t contain actual football games, like the NFL Draft, have become lucrative television events. The appeal of football is massive and seems to only be growing.
Although the NFL is covered year-round, the games themselves are only being played for about six months, meaning fans go half the year without seeing live football. Other leagues, such as the XFL and USFL, have jumped at this opportunity to fill these spring and summer months with live, full-contact football.
In theory, a spring football league could easily succeed. Fans just can’t get enough football, yet half the calendar is vacant of any organized games. However, history tells a different story. In fact, it wasn’t all that long ago the XFL gave it a whirl for the first time, only to cease all operations after just one season back in 2001. Since then, several other leagues have tried their hand at forming a formidable professional league on American soil, but as of now, none have succeeded.
The goal here is simple: find a way to make the league profitable. What’s less clear is how the league can accomplish this. There are countless different models and approaches one can take, and all are compelling on paper.
A reoccurring theme among spring football leagues has been deviating from the NFL. No one can come close to the NFL’s talent, so any league that wants to co-exist must find ways to compensate. If fans will watch amateur sporting events like the Little League World Series, getting them to watch a lower level of professional football is certainly plausible.
The XFL has put a twist on the game, adding several changes to the rules. Most notably, changing the alignment of players on kickoffs to increase player safety and eliminating onside kicks in favor of a 4th down and long conversion. These are just a couple of examples of rules that have been discussed in the NFL but not implemented.
The media also has more access allowing coaches and players to be interviewed mid-game, with many being mic’d up, giving the viewer a more complete experience as opposed to the NFL or college football.
Overall, the XFL has its share of appealing qualities, but whether or not these qualities will be enough to stop the league from folding yet again remains to be seen. The league likely needs some type of affiliation with the NFL to ensure long-term stability, but it’s unclear if the NFL would be willing to help, even if the two seasons don’t overlap.
More than anything else, the XFL’s fate comes down to the fans. With the NCAA basketball tournament, NBA postseason, and MLB regular season right around the corner, the league will need fans to maintain interest in the league over other sporting events.
Much like a start-up company, it’s always the early stages that are the hardest, and the companies that can survive the growing pains become far more likely to succeed. The longer the XFL can survive, the more likely it is to eventually become a profitable enterprise. But as we’ve come to learn with spring football, it’s easier said than done.