The XFL Following is Something We’ve Never Seen Before
Alex Marinoni, FBGP Reporter
The sporting world came to an abrupt halt last Wednesday, due to the Coronavirus international pandemic. The NBA, MLB, NHL and other professional/collegiate sporting leagues across the country, suspended operations and will look to figure out plans to continue their seasons. The XFL (one of the last leagues to confirm) waited until the end of day Thursday, to not just postpone their inaugural 2020 season, but, end the season entirely. The XFL doesn’t have the luxury of waiting out their season and picking up at a later date because they understand that they need to do right by the players. Not only did every player get fully paid out for their preseason and five weeks of service time, but the teams allowed their players out of their contracts earlier to seek other potential opportunities awaiting them in both the NFL and CFL. It was an easy decision that Vince McMahon and Oliver Luck didn’t have to make, but just like how they’ve handled every decision this season, it was the right one.
It is a big reason why the XFL, in such a short period of time, did something we have never seen before in the sporting world; create a following and build a sustainable culture in just half a season.
Week after week, the XFL was dominating the TV ratings on Saturdays and Sundays, and the attendance at the games met or exceeded expectations. Despite the naysayers, who were quick to remind everyone that the ratings were decreasing slightly every week, they still averaged well over one million viewers every game. Attendance in some cities seemed to hit their peak, but other cities like St. Louis, were on the verge of putting 45 thousand fans in the Dome. Days leading up to games, through days after games, the XFL was trending on Twitter and this was without the help from the Adam Schefter’s and Ian Rapoport’s of the world. A collection of up and coming and eager reporters, like me, were the ones getting the stories, visiting team practices, interviewing players and coaches, as well as hosting cable TV shows and Podcasts. If you followed the XFL at all this year, then you are more than familiar with the names like Konnor Fulk, Bailey Carlin, Mike Mitchell, Jai Stokes, Danny Jones, Allison Koehler among MANY others. Did you know these names before week 1? These names, and the many others, were part of the reason why the XFL community as a whole flourished the way it did.
How can this happen in just five weeks?
All these people, including myself, and the rest of the Football Gameplan crew, believed in what the XFL represented: a chance. For a lot of these players and coaches, it was a first chance. Players like Jordan Ta’amu, Donald Parham,PJ Walker, Cavon Walker, and coaches Jonathan Hayes and Pep Hamilton got their first chance at the professional level to play for, and/or lead a franchise. Then there were the guys who got a second chance; the likes of Matt Jones, Cameron Artis-Payne, Will Hill and Jim Zorn. Players and coaches who have spent significant time in the NFL looking for a chance at a second football life. Lastly, there were the guys who were on their last chance, guys like,Josh Johnson, Matt Elam and Kevin Gilbride. These, among many other players and coaches who were the guys that the NFL didn’t need any more and if not for a league like the XFL, we may have never seen in the professional football world again.
Now, you might be thinking, “how does this gain the following the XFL was able get?”
Through three paragraphs of this article, I have not once said the words “CBA,” “Money,” “Super-Team,” “Rules,” “Antiquated-Ways,” “Arbitration,” Etc… These are just some of the words used to describe the problems going on in American sports today that fans are just sick of. The NBA has a Super-Team problem. MLB has many problems that can all pretty much be summed up in one word: antiquation. Between the rookie contracts, arbitration process and the terrible job they do of marketing their star players, MLB has felt more like the old grumpy grandpa having a hard time adapting to the times. The NFL… HA! Where do I begin?? They have more problems to figure out than both NBA and MLB combined. I will just use words like CBA, Franchise Tag, Holdout, inconsistent officiating, inconsistent discipline measures, among many others.
There are two things American sports fans love in this country: football and watching really talented people play football. The XFL doesn’t have contract or CBA problems; they have the opposite of an antiquated problem, as they’ve innovated many new ideas on the field; and the parity in the league through five weeks was about as close at it could be. There wasn’t any background noise, political statements or agendas being pushed across on fans. Every Saturday and Sunday for five weeks, all we got was eight teams playing for the love of football. The XFL took out the BS and listened to the fans, and laid out a product that not only they wanted to see, but what the players wanted to see too. When the Coronavirus struck the US and the XFL was forced to close its doors on the season, you could see and feel the utter disappointment at all levels. The fans felt devastated, but, thankful. The up and coming media personalities are sick as we consumed the XFL like no other, but, were thankful. And no one was hurting more than the players as not only was their first, second and final chance at playing football came to an unwarranted pause, but, were thankful.
The community and foundation that was built in five weeks is something no league could have ever accomplished, especially with the failures the Spring Leagues before it suffered. The following the XFL garnered is real, and is among the many reasons why the XFL will be here to stay.