Vince McMahon and The XFL: No Chance In Hell?

If there is one thing Vince McMahon has, it’s balls.  Those who don’t follow wrestling may look at him as a complete joke, but if you take a look at what exactly he’s done in his career, it’s actually really incredible.  By doing this, you get to see exactly when he started growing giant balls.

Without going into too much detail, Vince McMahon grew his wrestling empire by taking insane chances, and breaking every rule in the book to get there.  Back in the early days of pro-wrestling, everything was done in “territories.”  Each area of the United States was run by different wrestling promotions.  Typically, these territories were respected and for decades these rules were never broken.  It was the general understanding among all promoters.  In the 1980’s, this all changed.  McMahon decided to break these rules, running shows in the same towns as other promotions while also signing their talent.

McMahon has never been afraid of competition.  This can also be proven by looking at “The Monday Night Wars,” where he was forced to defend himself when Ted Turner decided to go head to head with him in the mid-90’s.  I was lucky enough to experience all of this at the time it was happening, as this was most likely the highlight of McMahon’s incredible career.  McMahon was the clear underdog during this war, as Ted Turner has an endless stream of capital and his own television networks.  At the time, most fans thought he would lose that war, and for a while he was.  In the end, not only did McMahon win, he bought the company that tried to destroy him and put it down like Old Yeller.

In 1999 McMahon and NBC joined forces to create a product that would piggyback off the success of Pro-Wrestling and NFL Football; both were huge at the time.  The plan for the product was to use the same scoring system of the NFL, but rougher, less rules, and combine off-field elements like kayfabe involving sex and violence.  The XFL was going to tout itself as “real football” and feature players and coaches wearing microphones on the field, off the field, and in the locker room.  As ridiculous as this all sounds today in 2018, back then it made perfect sense.  McMahon reached the pinnacle of his success with the “Attitude Era” of wrestling, which was rooted in tasteless storylines, extreme violence, questionably racist dialog, and everything else that would send today’s P.C. cultured youth into cardiac arrest.  It’s clearly what people wanted back then, so he figured it would work with football.  That wasn’t the case.

The ratings for the first game were higher then they ever imagined, but fell sharply once the viewers saw the overall product.  The presentation and the talent on the field differed greatly then what fans were used to seeing in both the NFL and College Football.  The connection to professional wrestling was also turning people off.  It was just not something anyone was willing to take seriously.  Overall, it was a complete joke and was over after the first season.

Fast forward to 2018.  The NFL’s ratings have been declining steadily.  The first week of NFL playoffs this year saw a 16% drop from last year, which is about 5.8 million viewers.  NFL games are still the most watched sports on television, but the trend is still a concern.  So what is the reason for the continued loss of fans?  I don’t think there is a specific reason, but a multitude of reasons that hit a spectrum of people differently.  All of this is causing them to do something else on Sunday.  Whether it’s because of “taking a knee,” or the refusal to penalize those who did, or the increased length of the games due to the gratuitous amount of penalties, or the quality of the officiating, or the inconsistency of the rule enforcement, or Netflix, or simply not liking the fact that we are all watching men destroy their brains.  The list runs on and on, just like that last sentence.  What we could be seeing is a window of opportunity.  But is that window big enough to let in someone with gigantic balls?

On January 25th, Vince McMahon made history by announcing the revival of the XFL, which basically sent the internet into a frenzy.  This time, separating the brand from the WWE, stating that the company will be now owned by McMahon’s “Alpha Entertainment.”  This is an obvious attempt to help distance the product from wrestling.  The problem isn’t going to be the name of the company that owns the XFL, its the man that owns it.  Vince McMahon IS professional wrestling.

This revival of the XFL was presented much differently though.  McMahon was not assuming the role of the circus promoter. He sat there presenting a product that sounded somewhat reasonable if you were able to get past the stench of it’s past failures.  What was promised this time wasn’t football mixed with 90’s wrestling.  What was presented this time was a product that was seeking to capitalize on all the things that currently continue to tarnish the NFL.  McMahon promised more action and fewer rules.  He also stated that the XFL was looking to create a safer product, which I’m not sure is possible to achieve with fewer rules.  Vince stated that fans want shorter games with less interruptions.  He also said that in the XFL, “quality of the human being is going to be as important as the quality of the player.”  A direct shot at the NFL which is riddled with players that have criminal records, guys that hit women, and a league that continued to let a guy play who murdered dogs.  Players with something as simple as a DUI will not be able to play in the league.  He also addressed the current overblown controversy of “taking a knee” and stated that players will be expected to respect the National Anthem.  Vince stressed that this time around would be much different.  With the original XFL, the time wasn’t there to prepare and to get it right.  This time he says he has two years to get it right, getting experts in all areas, and closely listening to the fans.  Most importantly, there will be no crossover between the XFL and the WWE.

As stated earlier, when the announcement was made, the internet was sent into a frenzy.  Can this work?  The consensus amongst most fans is, “No.”  Some fans can’t get over how big of a disaster the first season of the XFL was.  Other fans are skeptical when McMahon states that he’s going to “listen to the fans.”  With wrestling, Vince does the complete opposite of that.  He promotes wrestlers that a majority of fans do not enjoy watching and he continues to have a three hour wrestling show when fans have been begging for two hours.  But after thinking about all of this, and initially mocking the idea, I think it has a shot.

With the continued loss of viewers in the NFL, those fans are still out there.  As Vince stated in the press conference, there is a significant off-season with the NFL which offers room for another product.  Do I think the XFL can go head-to-head with the NFL?  Absolutely not.  Not now anyway.  With the current state of the NFL and the growing list of things that continue to make the game worse, the XFL actually does have an opportunity to try and change the game.  If there truly is a way to simplify the game, to make it safer, and make it more exciting, then he is on to something.

There are so many costly lessons learned from the first XFL season, that it is possible to build on that while also capitalizing on everything the NFL does wrong.  You have to remember, the ratings for the first game were there and I have no doubt they will be there this time as well.  The real challenge though is captivating that audience, presenting them with a strong professional product, and not something that looks like porn.  It is easy to mock Vince McMahon (I do it myself), but one must not forget what the man has built in his career.  As off-the-wall as he is, he is still possibly the greatest promoter of all time.  At a time where technology and social media allow endless opportunities for any idea, anything is possible.  I won’t count out the success of the XFL.

Neither should you.

 

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