XFL: The American Football League Born Out of Wrestling | Smark Out Moment

XFL: The American Football League Born Out of Wrestling

Posted by Smark Out Moment Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The following post was written and submitted by Alexander Powell:

In the United States, American football reigns supreme as the most-watched and most-talked about sport. It does face tough competition from basketball, baseball, and hockey, but none of these come close to matching football in its dominance.

At the college level, American football is king. Dozens of US universities have football stadiums that are bigger and more advanced than Europe's oldest and most prestigious sports clubs. At the professional level, the NFL is a powerhouse that has the resources to out-compete any rival leagues. After all, the Super Bowl dominates the news agenda for days and weeks leading up to the big game and attracts around 100 million Americans who tune in to watch on TV. Even well-established sports leagues struggle to match this.

Yet, it hasn't stopped people from trying to beat the NFL. Over the years, there have been many attempts at creating another professional football league in the USA. The most successful of these was the American Football League, which managed to operate for 10 seasons from 1960. It eventually merged with the NFL, creating the modern Super Bowl.

In the 1980s, the United States Football League also tried to have a swing at the NFL by trying to operate during the summer when American football traditionally isn't played. This was working well until several team owners, including Donald Trump, tried to force a merger with the NFL by scheduling games at the same time as it. This ultimately failed, resulting in the league folding.

More than a dozen major professional leagues have failed to beat the NFL, including the World Football League and the All-American Football Conference. Yet, this didn't dissuade WWE owner Vince McMahon from throwing his hat in the ring with the XFL


The Original XFL

The first time the world was introduced to the XFL was in early 2000 when the US broadcaster NBC and WWE Properties International Inc announced they would be creating the XFL to take the best bits of the NFL and the then WWF to create a bigger spectacle.

To do this, the XFL would make rule changes that would allow rougher plays and introduce mechanisms for fans to feel closer to the action. This included replacing the traditional coin toss with a rough scramble between a player from each team, cameras in the locker rooms, and coaches with microphones.

Much of these ideas came from professional wrestling, something that McMahon knows a lot about and has enjoyed immense success with.

The league launched in 2001 to much fanfare. Like the United States Football League, games were scheduled for when the NFL season had ended, so as to not be in direct competition. The opening game, on 3rd February 2001 enjoyed strong viewership numbers and ratings from the analytics company Nielsen.

Criticism of the quality of play compared to the NFL saw the XFL's TV ratings decline quickly. This led to NBC pulling out of the venture after the end of the inaugural season and, ultimately, the league's folding.

The Rebirth of the XFL

After its collapse, McMahon sat on the idea of the XFL for the best part of two decades. In 2017 he told ESPN that he considered reviving the league but with a number of major changes. Earlier that year, he bought trademarks to two other failed leagues: the United Football League and Your Football League.

In the following January, almost 18 years to the day the original XFL was announced, McMahon told the world he would be bringing back the XFL.

Learning lessons from the failed 2001 venture, McMahon allowed two years to prepare, allowing players to be drafted well in advance and teams to train together for some time. A raft of rule changes that the XFL announced ahead of the 2020 start would aim to reduce game length and improve the spectacle even more than in the 2001 version.

Games got underway on February 8th, right after the NFL's Super Bowl, but were suspended in March. The following month, the XFL folded for a second time.

XFL Betting

With the XFL's close connections to McMahon and professional wrestling, many in the American football world were unsure whether the outcomes of games were to be predetermined. This was quickly put to rest when Las Vegas sportsbooks began accepting wagers on XFL games.

When the league was relaunched in 2020, most sportsbooks began accepting wagers again, including many who offered free bet promotions to new customers. The types of bets that were offered were mostly the same as the NFL, including those on individual games and futures markets. Should Dwayne Johnson's purchase of the league lead to its second reincarnation, we will likely see the same thing happening again.

XFL III

After the XFL folded for a second time, a series of legal battles played out in several US courts. This led to the league being sold to a consortium that included bodybuilder and businesswoman Dany Garcia and wrestling legend Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

Johnson played football for the Miami Hurricanes while at college and had been signed by the Canadian Football League team Calgary Stampeders. In October 2020, the new XFL owners announced that it would be returning for the third time in the Spring of 2022.

In an announcement video, Johnson and Garcia said they were planning to "build a league of culture, passion and purpose" and that they were going to put their hearts and souls into the project.

In a statement, the league's President and COO Jeffrey Pollack hinted that the league was planning to make rule changes that would improve safety for players as well as ensuring it continued to provide exciting entertainment for fans of football.

With Dwayne Johnson's involvement, the XFL continues to have close ties to professional wrestling and is likely to continue borrowing ideas to create a more exciting package for football fans. However, he and the XFL have signaled that they'll be making major changes that signal the third incarnation of the league will be looking to distance itself from McMahon, with hopes of opening a new chapter for the organization, and attracting more fans.

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