Commentary

XFL Looks For Win Against NFL

Gambling on the big TV revenue program genre? Throw a Hail Mary pass. That’s a football term for a last-second desperation pass into the end zone — in the faint hope of scoring a touchdown and winning the game.

NFL TV programming remains king. Annual TV revenues continue to pull in around $7 billion from all U.S. TV networks -- and much more from league sponsorship deals, as well as stadium revenues. Total revenue is around $15 billion.

Live TV is where the NFL lives.

It remains “premium” video in the eyes of many marketers, which garners high cost per thousands, while getting to harder-to-reach male viewers.

Who could blame the upstart Alliance of American Football for wanting to have a go as a spring football league -- given the NFL's fall-season dominance?

Turns out, this careful business plan wasn’t working. After eight games of its 10-game season weekend, the AAF is out of cash. So it suspended play.

But the story doesn’t end there. The XFL league -- a revival of the effort of the same name started in the 1980s -- needs more funding, and it hasn’t even begun. The league launches February 8-9, 2020.

The league is the dream of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, who recently sold 3.2 million shares of WWE stock to bolster additional financing for it. The good news: there is less competition. The XFL will also be a spring-time league.

Here’s the rub: story lines. Like any TV programming -- sports, scripted or unscripted -- they are essential. To be fair, McMahon knows good story lines. WWE characters have them -- live-action performers impersonating what seems to be super-animated heroes and villains.

I didn’t see much of AAF. But we know a young league -- with little marketing spin around its players -- needs time to develop. It needs stories.

A good model of success might be Major League Soccer, which has slowly developed over the years. For MLS, the positive was starting when there was no U.S.-based pro soccer league. It's not quite the same for AAF or XFL when it came to football.

What can the XFL do to make headlines? If it can be sustained financially for a few years, it should make a bold move, and challenge any established professional team to a game.

Imagine if McMahon could arrange -- in some way -- for the winner of the forthcoming first season of the XFL to play a NFL team -- like the Dallas Cowboys. On TV. You’d watch. That would surely put the league on the map.

Although the deal to merge the NFL and the old AFL league was agreed to in 1966, two AFL teams -- the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs -- won Super Bowls before the leagues began joint operations in 1970.

That’s a good sports story — enough to make any football fan sit up and take notice.

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