Vince McMahon’s XFL has now been a failure on two occasions.
The pro football league shut down after one season in 2001 due to a sharp decline in week-to-week TV ratings, and in 2020, McMahon’s dream of an NFL alternative lasted just five weeks. The league, in fact, filed for bankruptcy on April 13.
In fairness, however, the most recent edition ultimately met its demise because of something out of its control.
XFL 2.0 lacked the financial infrastructure that other US sports leagues had built over decades when it was forced to stop play due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
McMahon’s league was essentially running week to week and was on a “prove it” deal with major networks. Without games to broadcast, the XFL was losing millions on a weekly basis over the past month.
Innovation a lasting XFL legacy
One of the few bright spots from the 2001 version of the XFL was its innovative camerawork.
XFL 1.0, more or less, invented the sky camera, which suspends a video camera over the field of play by a wire.
The NFL, college football, the Olympics and many other sports quickly stole the idea after XFL 1.0 folded. It is still a big part of most major TV sports production today.
Despite playing only a little over a month of football this time around, the XFL left another permanent mark on how we consume football on TV.
The 2020 version fully embraced sports betting culture, displaying game spreads and totals on the TV broadcast scoreboard throughout the game.
Announcers also openly discussed odds and live betting options throughout the game instead of the usual gambling “wink-wink” that announcers, like Al Michaels, often sprinkle into their commentary.
Embracing legal sports betting
During its 2020 campaign, XFL President Jeffrey Pollock said that sports betting was “absolutely fundamental” to the league potentially thriving.
“A core business strategy and really a core fan-engagement strategy for us is to embrace the spread,” Pollock said, via the Los Angeles Times. “Betting and sports gaming are as essential to the football experience in 2020 as the helmet, the jersey and the ball.”
A copycat league
As is often the case, the NFL has stumbled into good fortune.
The brief XFL 2.0 season served as an experiment that the NFL could learn from; the main lesson was how to highlight the growing legal sports betting culture.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has softened his stance on sports wagering in recent years as the league will now allow betting lounges – with sportsbook sponsorship – in many of its stadiums starting in 2020.
“We feel good about how it’s evolved state-by-state,” said NFL Chief Strategy and Growth Officer Chris Halpin to ESPN in February. “We’re more and more excited about how sports betting is developing and we’re now doing more in the space. We’re very positive about how it’s developing.”
In the coming years, possibly this season, we could see NFL TV broadcasts display betting lines on their bottom line scoreboards, as well as live betting options. We also will likely see an integration of sports betting commentary from game announcers.