Vince McMahon is officially moving forward with plans to bring back the XFL, the pro football league he launched in 2001 which lasted for one season.
The WWE chairman and CEO made the announcement during a live press conference on Thursday.
“The new XFL will kick off in 2020 and quite frankly, we’re going to give the game of football back to fans,” McMahon said. “It’s still football, but it’s football re-imagined.” McMahon also said the league would begin with eight teams, each with a 40-man roster. He added that there would be no crossover of WWE talent into the league and that he would not be the frontman of the new league as he was with the original. He went on to say that XFL games would have a faster pace and his goal was to get them to two hours.
When asked if the league would be distributed on broadcast or streaming, he said, “As we re-imagine the game, we re-imagine the way we distribute the game. It’s going to be a combination of any number of forms of presentation.” In addition, McMahon stated that the league would be a single entity and would not use the franchise model.
McMahon also fielded questions about whether or not President Donald Trump would be supportive of the league and if this was a reaction to the national anthem protests that have occurred during this NFL season. “As far as our league is concerned, it will have nothing to do with politics and nothing to do with social issues.”
“There’s plenty of opportunities and plenty of ways that players, coaches, and members of the media can express themselves… but again we’re here to play football,” he continued.
Rumors of the league’s revival have been swirling for weeks after it was revealed that McMahon had sold approximately $100 million worth of WWE stock to fund a company known as Alpha Entertainment. Shortly thereafter, Alpha Entertainment filed paperwork to acquire multiple trademarks associated with the XFL.
In a statement issued in December, the WWE made it clear that the company is not getting back into the pro football business and that Alpha Entertainment is McMahon’s personal venture.
“Vince McMahon has established and is personally funding a separate entity from WWE, Alpha Entertainment, to explore investment opportunities across the sports and entertainment landscapes, including professional football,” the company said. “Mr. McMahon has nothing further to announce at this time.” Nevertheless, the announcement of the press conference was promoted across WWE’s social media channels. McMahon also stated during the press conference that he would continue to serve as chairman and CEO of WWE in addition to running the XFL.
The XFL was founded as a joint venture between NBC and the WWE and was comprised of eight teams. The rules differed from NFL football in several respects, including having no opening coin toss. Instead, a player from each team would line up on the 30 yard line and race toward the ball on the 50 yard line. The first player to get a hold of the ball would determine possession. This method infamously resulted in multiple injuries to players before the game had even begun. The league also standardized players’ pay, with bonuses given out to winning teams.
In the ESPN documentary “30 for 30: This Was the XFL,” which was released in early 2017, McMahon and former NBC executive Dick Ebersol reminisced about the league, even proposing bringing it back.
Charlie Ebersol, who directed the documentary, told Variety upon its release that it was entirely possible McMahon could bring the league back. “He’s a madman,” he said. “If Vince has put enough thought into it, I never question the validity, because you never know when he’s going to walk into the press room and announce that he’s doing it.”
The relaunch of the XFL also comes as ratings for NFL games are in decline. For the regular season, NFL games were down in the Nielsen ratings an average of 9 percent from last year. In addition, the viewership numbers for the recent AFC and NFC championship games was down approximately 8 percent from last year’s championship games. Still, the NFL games continue to be the highest-rated and most-watched programs on television.