The rebooted XFL will look to distinguish itself from the Alliance of American Football by playing in bigger markets and offering higher salaries than its spring-season rival.
It is unclear how these two American football leagues will co-exist from 2020 onwards – Charlie Ebersol’s Alliance will start a year earlier in February 2019.
But Vince McMahon’s XFL is looking to make its mark by playing in predominantly major NFL markets. As expected, New York, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, St Louis, Washington DC, Tampa Bay and Seattle will host the inaugural eight teams.
“It’s very intentional that we’re in the larger markets. We think there is room for second or third teams in many of the markets we are in,” said commissioner Oliver Luck.
This compares to the Alliance’s more regional feel, with teams in Birmingham, Memphis, Orlando, San Antonio, San Diego and Salt Lake City (although it is also in two NFL markets, Atlanta and Phoenix).
The XFL will also pay its players more than the Alliance. The XFL is offering is marquee – or top-tier – players “upwards of $300,000 a year”, according to Luck. This compares to the $250,000 Alliance players will earn over three seasons.
Indeed, the XFL is believed to have far more financial backing than the Alliance. McMahon will reportedly spend around $500m for the XFL’s first three seasons. The Alliance has secured investment from Peter Thiel and the Chernin Group, among others, but the figures are unknown.
The two leagues are set to go head-to-head in the scheduling as well. The XFL announced it will kick off in the weekend of February 8-9, 2020, a week after Super Bowl LIV. The Alliance begins a week after Super Bowl LIII, indicating that a clash awaits.
Speaking at a press conference at the MetLife Stadium, which will house the New York team, Luck was bullish about the XFL’s looming rivalry with the Alliance. When asked if he was concerned that the Alliance would have a year’s headstart, Luck simply replied: “No.”
‘Our number one goal is exposure’
A series of further commercial details were announced at the press conference. A state-of-the-art XFL app will be created that will contain video, news, scores and fan engagement tools. “We’ve got a whole tech team that’s working on ways that fans can interact, whether that’s fantasy and whether fans can decide what uniforms teams will wear,” Luck said. “We’re trying to give fans a voice and get engaged.”
The league will embrace fantasy leagues and sports betting; Luck revealed that conversations have already taken place with gaming operators about an official partnership.
“We’re in the process of trying to better understand where the sports betting market will be in the spring of 2020, it’s changing very rapidly,” Luck said. “We see it as an opportunity. We’ve had conversations with various gambling providers, like MGM or others. We’re trying to better understand the marketplace and where our opportunities may be.”
The XFL is expected to announce a television deal in the coming months, with sponsorship deals to follow. “Our number one goal is exposure. The best thing we can do is have as much exposure as possible. We think exposure will drive success,” Luck said. “Live football is going remain destination viewing and I think that gives us a good opportunity as good as we put out a good, crisp product.
“We’ve had meaningful and deep conversations with all the major media players. We are confident our games will be available on multiple platforms. We will have exciting news to share soon about the specifics.
“We’ve had some conversations with corporate partners but we’re really waiting to announce our television package. We think that is so important from the viewpoint of getting potential sponsors.”
The XFL is expecting average attendances of at least 20,000, with ticket prices designed to be affordable for families. “We’re working closely with our vending partners to offer ticket prices that are significantly lower than the major leagues in the US today,” Luck said.
“We have budgeted numbers of 20,000 sold tickets. But I think we can do better than that in many, if not most, of our markets. Having said, that you don’t know what will happen with weather, particularly in northern markets, but I think we will draw very well.”
In regards to expansion, the league is looking to expand to 10 teams by 2022. According to Luck, more than 30 cities applied to become the inaugural eight cities.
‘You won’t hear us bash the NFL’
Unlike the original incarnation of the XFL, which lasted just one season in 2001, the league will not look to take on the NFL. “We’ve shared our plans with the NFL and I think we have a very friendly, productive relationship…you won’t hear us bash the NFL,” Luck said.
It is clear that quarterbacks will play a major role in the league’s fortunes. “We think the quality of the play in our league will be dictated by the quality of the quarterbacks,” Luck said.
XFL players will be designated into four tiers: tier one will be quarterbacks, who the league will look to sign in early 2019. “Our top-tier players will be earning upwards of $300,000 a year and they will scale down from there. We will be very competitive with [paying] our players compared to other leagues that are operating in the spring,” Luck said.
Below the tier-one players, each 45-man roster will have three “cornerstone” tier-two players who will be well remunerated, though it is unclear by how much, followed by tier-three and tier-four players. XFL players will also be given opportunities to move to the NFL and, as such, they will sign one-year deals to allow easy freedom of movement.
“Once the season expires, they have an opportunity to move to the NFL and we would welcome that,” Luck said. “We realise that the NFL has been – and will remain for a long, long time – the gold standard. A player who has that opportunity should be able to take advantage of that. I expect there will be significant turnover but we’ll have to see how that plays out.”
Players will all be given healthcare benefits and will be tested for performance-enhancing drugs and potentially recreational drugs as well. All players will be employed by the XFL, which will operate in a single-entity structure like the Alliance, and there will be no players’ union, at least initially.
Luck said that the XFL will be gimmick-free – and avoid any WWE cross-promotion – in order to appeal to American football fans looking for a fix in the NFL off-season. “We are really very focused on the 40-some million passionate, die-hard football fans that exist in this country, among a group of 95 million or so that call the NFL their thing,” Luck said.
“Most of those passionate fans are in the big markets, they are season-ticket holders for the Giants, the Jets or the Texans, or the Chargers or the Rams. And they have told us through research that they want more football and are willing to consume more football, whether it’s live in-stadium or at home. We really need to get the football right as that passionate group of fans really does understand the game.”