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Why Did the XFL Fail in 2001 and Succeed in 2020?

The XFL is here and the first reviews so far have been positive. But for many of us watching the new football league, we are having déjà vu.

No, you are not crazy and no you are not imagining things, because for those of us that can remember the XFL premiered in 2001 for one season only and quickly went dormant for the better part of two decades.

But why did this new football league made by the famous wrestling personality Vince McMahon fail back in 2001 and what is making it a success now that it is 2020?

What Went Wrong in 2001

The XFL Blimp Crash

The XFL in 2001 had a blimp emblazoned with the XFL logo flying around Oakland when the two pilots lost control of the airship and had to abandon ship. The ship crashed into a local restaurant causing over $2.5 million in damage and was an inauspicious start to the league that was set to debut a month later.

It Was Treated More Like Wrestling Than Football

From the outset of the very first match, McMahon himself came out to the field proclaiming the new league in a perfect WWE style. Later he would have many of his pro wrestlers come to the games to pump up the crowd.

Apparently, the cameos had the opposite of the desired effect and resulted in a lot of the viewers not taking the whole spectacle seriously as a professional football game. After all, if it was a pro football league then why would they need pro wrestlers to come and pump up the crowd?

Playing in the Dark

During week two of the XFL the generators failed and cut power to the whole operation. This is a huge problem when you consider that the game was broadcasted on national television.

Apparently, this had a very poor effect on the following weeks broadcast with far fewer people tuning in.

Oversexualized Cheerleaders

It seems the vision for the XFL in 2001 was mainly cantered around violence and sex with the players taking care of the violence that left the sex part up to the cheerleaders.

The now-famous “shower video” was an idea for halftime entertainment in which the cheerleaders dressed in the kinds of outfits that wouldn’t be amiss in a strip club and cavorted around the locker room.

Rumors were also abounding that cheerleaders were not just allowed to date the players and staff but that sometimes it was encouraged. Other worse rumors abound, but It seems that the viewership of 2001 wasn’t ready for that level of sexualization on televised sports.

The Scramble Fiasco

McMahon had another vision for the XFL, one that in retrospect we probably should have seen coming. Reportedly his vision for the XFL was that there would be fewer rules in order to make it rougher than the NFL. Who could have guessed that the owner of the WWE would try to get his football players fighting each other?

One of his ideas to get the player engaging with each other on the field was to do away with the coin toss and instead institute a scramble for the ball. Instead of the traditional coin determining who got the first possession instead a player from each team would run pell-mell at the ball with the first one to take possession of it being the team that gets to start the game.

Obviously, this resulted in an unusually high number of injuries.

WWE Heat and Kayfabe in Football

McMahon tried to import the concepts of WWE “heat” and “kayfabe” into his XFL to mixed reactions. For the uninitiated “heat” in the WWE refers to crowd reaction and animosity between teams in which jeering and throwing of things are often commonplace. “Kayfabe” is another term in the WWE in which staged events are portrayed as being real.

Despite this, the matches in the original XFL were legitimate games and the wins and losses were not staged, but that didn’t stop people from suggesting they were.

What Is Going Well Now That It Is 2020

To put things bluntly the successes of the current XFL have a lot to do with their dropping of many if not all the features that made it something of a disaster the first time around.

McMahon’s vision for the current iteration of the XFL is that it is a much more legitimate football experience based around quality playing rather than relying on the flashy aspects that made it a failure in 2001.

Not Good Enough for the NFL Is a Good Thing?

The current goal of the XFL is to have the best 560 players in the USA that are not in the NFL. Logic would suggest that this means that the XFL is an inferior product to the NFL but there is an argument that means it could, in fact, make it better.

Since no one is debating whether the XFL is better than the NFL that leaves the XFL players naturally wanting to ‘move up’ as it were to the NFL. This basically puts them in a permanent state of auditioning for NFL talent scouts meaning that we know they are giving 110% in every game.

Whether or not the XFL is here to stay this time around remains to be seen but one thing is for sure, it can’t do any worse than it did in 2001.

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