Well That Didn’t Work: XFL

Craig Wilson

Is XFL perhaps Vince's biggest failure to date? (Image courtesy of carlosalcazar.org)

Is XFL perhaps Vince’s biggest failure to date? (Image courtesy of carlosalcazar.org)

Few can deny Vince McMahon’s success in sports entertainment since taking over the then World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) and turning it into the wrestling/sports entertainment monster that it is today having swept every single competitor by the wayside.

Despite all this success Vince has time and time again strived to be successful out with the parameters of the squared circle. There have been various failures including the World Body Building Federation (WBF) that existed until 1992, the on-going – and perhaps never ending – talk of a WWE Network, the WWE film studio and Antonio Inoki taking on Muhammad Ali. Perhaps, though, his most famous failing was with the XFL.

Clearly still riding high after putting WCW out of business, Vince decided he wanted to take advantage of the NFL off-season and put on a football promotion. The result? A project that cost both the WWE and NBC some $35 million and would fold within one season – half the time originally booked up by NBC.

The concept itself seemed doomed from the offset. After all, it wasn’t like the NFL was struggling so there really was no desire for a second football league and that became abundantly clear by week two of the broadcast. The games featured fewer rules, more scantily clad women and several backstage segments but that wasn’t enough.

Soon the games, which were of a fairly average standard, were shown from empty stadiums to abandoned living rooms. One of the largest contributory factors to the league’s demise was the WWE involvement as it led to both the media and football fans being unable to take the XFL seriously. Certainly a bad start for a project that had the aim of attracting both wrestling and football fans.

But could it have worked? In the McMahon DVD both Joey Styles and Vince himself said it could have worked and Jerry Lawler, in his autobiography, said that the league needed more time. However, after bleeding the money that it did in year one; that was never on the cards. Ultimately, though, it could have succeeded had it been portrayed as a football league and not an attempt to target people that are fans of both wrestling and football. That niche market and the close link with the WWE made the project doomed from the outset.

I can’t help but think I’ll be writing a column of this ilk in the near future about the WWE Film Studios and even further down the line on the Network, if that even gets off the ground.

You can read the other ‘Well That Didn’t Work’ articles here.


One thought on “Well That Didn’t Work: XFL

  1. Why The XFL Failed

    Bad Marketing

    The XFL was plagued by Vince McMahon’s overriding desire to court his wrestling demographic this had the consequence of turning away football demographics whom jumped to the conclusion that the XFL would have the same manner of sportsmanship the WWE has (i.e. None.)

    The wrestling demographic got hooked on the pre-season marketing and expected a bloodbath on the gridiron, instead they got a variation of college rules football (with ball scrambles and No PAT’s allowed) which the wrestling fans found boring. With the overall football demographic being turned off by the pre-season marketing, all that remained was small number of demographic intersect (wrestling fans who happen to like football.)

    Bad Owner Image

    Vince McMahon is generally known as a wrestling kingpin, the manner in which he built his empire was, putting it politely…Sharkish. That is compounded by steroid scandals that rocked the then WWF in the past, with the implications that McMahon wasn’t just complicit, but masterminded it. Overall in the business world Vince McMahon viewed as unethical and his enterprises are suspected of a degree of corruption.

    The above is only half of it, McMahon has over the course of his wrestling empire portrayed a caricatureized version of himself and it is a challenge for non-wrestling demographics to know where the real McMahon ends and the over the top kingpin begins.

    The only way the XFL would be taken seriously is if McMahon’s role was solely as a silent bank-roller.

    Unclear Rules

    The XFL had a ‘No fair catch’ rule arguing that ‘fair catch’ was for pansies, unfortunately nobody told the players. It was a frequent occurrence in XFL games where a player would signal ‘fair catch’ and receive a game delay penalty. This only served to aggravate and confuse the fanbase.

    Additionally there were the nuances with how loose, or strict the XFL was on physical contact penalties in general. The viewers were completely confused, the marketing gave the indication that the XFL was more akin to ‘Blitz: The League’, but the actual product was essentially a 1/4 sized NFL.

    Network Betrayal

    NBC, for reasons yet to be understood panicked when ratings dropped over the course of the inaugural season and opted that it would be better to outrightly breach their contract with McMahon. The real perplexing aspect was that NBC is half owner of the league.

    UPN, after NBC stuck a knife in XFL’s back, UPN chose to hold Smackdown hostage and get more money out of McMahon. Threatening WWE airtime pushed McMahon to scuttle the League, without an open air outlet the XFL was doomed in the same manner as it’s predecessors (WFL, USFL.)


    The XFL story is not a case study against spring football, there is a market for it, hence why so many leagues have tried. Unlike it’s predecessors and successors the XFL had national open air coverage and top of the line resources….it mismanaged them.

    Had the WFL and USFL had national open air coverage and competent marketing apparatuses they could’ve been equals to the NFL, instead they struggled and starved in obscurity lacking what the XFL managed to obtain.

    If the the XFL was quarantined from pro wrestling at the start, had it been crystal clear on it’s rulebook, had marketing focused on wooing NFL fans (‘Watch XFL for the Xtra Football you crave’) instead of focusing on a narrow demographic 1/50th the size, it could have been successful.

    Liked by 2 people

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