It had everything but the steel chair shots to the back.
At the XFL news conference Wednesday, representatives from eight cities walked out to entrance music, turned to the camera and, as they say in professional wrestling, “cut a promo.”
One by one, they announced how honored they were to be part of the revival of the winter/spring football league.
For the most part, everyone smiled and shook hands, but Ken “Commissioner” Hagan, hailing from Hillsborough County, Florida, was all business. Hagan strode to the lectern and, straight-faced, threw shade at football-loving communities across America. None of them compare to Tampa Bay, he said, pledging that his region’s team would be the benchmark franchise for the league. Not Dallas. Not Houston. Not Los Angeles. Not New York. And definitely not St. Louis, Seattle and Washington.
The dozens in attendance at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., sat in silence. Intimidated, probably.
“You couldn’t have chosen a community that is more football-centric, with Tampa Bay being a proven winner in hosting major sporting events and sports franchises,” said Hagan, whose name bears a striking resemblance to Hulk Hogan.
Are you ready, Tampa Bay? Are you ready for (even more) football? Whatcha gonna do in February 2020 when the XFL comes to a stadium near you?
That stadium, by the way, will be Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, home to the NFL’s Buccaneers.
“Football has a long, rich history at Raymond James Stadium,” Hagan said, again with a straight face. He got the “long” part right.
Is there a rivalry brewing?
Nah. Think of the Bucs as more of a tag-team partner.
“The popularity and interest in the sport of football is at an all-time high in our country,” Brian “Chief Operating Officer” Ford said on behalf of the Bucs. “As passionate advocates for our great game, we support the growth of organized football in whatever form it takes.”
So what form will the XFL take in 2020? Here’s everything we know.
Yes and no. Like the first incarnation of the league, XFL 2.0 is backed by World Wrestling Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon. His financial commitment this time around, however, is much more significant. Before the XFL’s relaunch, McMahon formed a separate company from WWE — Alpha Entertainment. Through that entity, he expects to spend $500 million in the league’s first three seasons.
McMahon says there will be no crossover between the XFL and the WWE, aside from his money, of course. To ensure the league’s success and increase its credibility, McMahon hired Oliver Luck, a respected football lifer, to be the commissioner and CEO. Luck, 58, has been an NCAA and NFL quarterback as well as an NCAA and NFL executive. Most recently, he was the NCAA’s executive vice president of regulatory affairs and strategic partnerships, which is a boring way of saying “relationship builder.”
Luck told the Tampa Bay Times that in his discussions with McMahon before he accepted the XFL job, McMahon was clear that “mistakes were made” the first time around and that he wanted to hire “somebody like me who has done this before — has run leagues, has launched a number of different things both in football and other sports — to do it the right way.”
McMahon realizes this isn’t 2001 anymore.
“Back when I was in discussions with Vince, I said to him that I don’t think the American public will support any sports league that doesn’t have very strict protocols for health and safety,” Luck said.
The league will have a medical advisory team consisting of neurologists and orthopedists, Luck said, and will “engage a mental health expert, which is something that I feel very strongly about, something that has been ignored, I think, with professional athletes, and college for that matter.”
The XFL will be an eight-team league. Each team will play a 10-game regular season. The postseason will consist of a semifinal round and a championship game. Teams will be allowed to have 40 to 45 players on their active rosters.
In Tampa Bay’s case, the Bucs could have killed the effort if they wanted to, Hagan told the Times. Instead, they were supportive and worked with the county to build an extensive bid package, he said.
“It’s a city, a market all the way down the west coast through Bradenton and south that has embraced football, both professional as well as college,” Luck said. “(Raymond James Stadium) is a beautiful venue, we believe. I couldn’t say enough nice things about the folks at the stadium and the (Tampa Sports Authority) and how they’ve embraced us and welcomed us. We just think it makes sense. Florida’s a football state, just like Texas in that sense and like a lot of the other states in the South.”
Hillsborough County secures a new tenant at Raymond James Stadium from 2020 through 2022, Hagan said. The county also will pocket a portion of the revenues from ticket sales.
Unlikely. XFL staff members are researching other potential locations.
Luck said he doesn’t expect an NFL team to provide the XFL with practice facilities.
“We have to fit around how that works in each of our markets,” he said. “For example, in Houston, we’ll be playing at the University of Houston’s football stadium. They’ve offered up their practice set-up because at that time of year quite honestly they’re not all that busy with football.”
Specific expectations vary from market to market, but in general, the XFL’s goal is 20,000 sold tickets per game, Luck said. To ensure the league can meet that goal, it’s researching ticket pricing in each market.
“We’re focused on family-friendly prices,” Luck said. “I go to NFL games every week, and it’s not inexpensive to buy tickets for good seats in the lower bowl.”
The NFL. The XFL can be its laboratory. If the league’s rule tweaks and pace-of-play changes make for a more exciting game, you can bet the NFL will adopt the best of them. The camera angles and audio clips you enjoy during broadcasts today? Yeah, you can thank the original XFL for that.
Plus, XFL players can leave the league to pursue opportunities (i.e. larger salaries) in the NFL.
The Rays. If the XFL attracts anywhere close to the 20,000 fans that it hopes to draw, will enough people in Tampa be willing to drive over the Howard Frankland Bridge to watch a baseball game at the Trop in March or April?
Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected]. Follow @tometrics.