XFL 2.0: Will returning American Football league suffer another quick death?

Leigh Copson /
XFL, fast-paced and fan-friendly, returning in 2020; Orlando interested in getting team

Wrestling guru Vince McMahon will try his hand at American Football once again this year, but will the second coming of the XFL be a success or will it be one-and-done like the first incarnation of the league almost 20 years ago?

It was back in 2000 that McMahon first announced that he would be launching a new spring lead that he claimed would bring ‘fun’ back to the sport, accusing the NFL of becoming the ‘No Fun League’. The XFL would be the ‘extra fun league’ but perhaps the XFL really stood for ‘flop’ because by the end of 2001, and after just one season, it was done.

While the debut weekend in February 2001 did draw record-viewing figures in the United States, viewers were not hooked by the poor standard of football played and quickly deserted the product. And when an entertaining game a week later went off air due a massive technical blunder, it was as good as over.

Viewing figures continued to plummet despite the quality of play improving over the coming weeks, and the XFL set an all-time low in March 2001 when a matchup between the Las Vegas Outlaws and Los Angeles Xtreme drew just 2.6 million viewers to NBC. The league did last long enough to hold its equivalent of the Super Bowl, the ‘One Million Dollar Championship Game’, but by the time LA lifted the trophy almost everyone knew that the XFL would be dead before the year was out. The time, or should we say date of death, turned out to be May 10, 2001.

Few expected a resurrection, but it came almost 17 years later when McMahon stood on a podium and confirmed the relaunch of the ill-fated league in January 2018. Knowing full well that another failure would leave him humiliated, McMahon’s demeanour was a far cry from those bombastic press conferences held around the launch of the first incarnation of the league. While he did state that the returning league would try to ‘re-imagine’ the game, it was clear that XFL 2.0 would be a lot different to XFL 1.0 which ended up using violence and titillation in an attempt to draw in viewers. The new XFL would be all about family-friendly football – but is there a market for it?

While McMahon and his team laid the foundations for the XFL’s first season back in 2020, a familiar face jumped ahead of him with the launch of a spring league in 2019. Charlie Ebersol, the son of McMahon’s XFL partner Dick and producer of the XFL 30 For 30 documentary, opened the Alliance of American Football (AAF) a year ago and appeared to have stolen a march on his father’s old friend.

However, it quickly became apparent that the league had serious financial issues from almost the start and unlike the first XFL, which managed to complete a full season, the plug was pulled midway through its inaugural campaign when a key investor suspended operations and the league filed for bankruptcy.

So ahead of the XFL’s return on February 8, one week after the NFL’s Super Bowl, bookmaker Unibet is asking two big questions: 1) Will the second incarnation of the XFL manage at least a second season? And 2) Will the new XFL at least manage to hold more games than the failed Alliance of American Football?

The XFL may have flopped the first time around, but the bookies believe the newest version of this spring American Football League will fare better than it did nearly 20 years ago. Unibet is 1/2 that the league is not officially closed before the end of 2020 (7/5 it is), while the bookmaker has gone 2/7 that the XFL surpasses the AAF’s sole season by holding at least 33 regular season games before the end of WWE WrestleMania 36 on April 5, 2020 (9/4 it does not).

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