MARCH 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 3
ALSO THIS MONTH
A fiesta in Arizona and a football game broke out.
Canada turns its back on the NHL.
MARC CIAMPA, a native of St. Albert, Alberta, Canada is the staff sports writer for Renaissance Online Magazine. A student at the University of Alberta, Ciampa is the public relations coordinator for the St. Albert Saints and writes a weekly article in the Edmonton Sun on junior hockey during the winter. During the summer he runs the official Calgary Cannons website.
The slogan for Vince McMahon and the WWF's newly-formed XFL is "where the future tackles the past." The question I want to ask, is how long before the XFL becomes a thing of the past?
News of the football league did not sit well with investors, as the WWF's stock (listed on the NYSE as WWFE) dropped from about $16.00 to $10.00. In every other aspect, the wrestling company has been making money like it was going out of style, so the drop can only be attributed to one thing: McMahon's hair-brained idea that Americans want football -- any type of football -- after the Super Bowl.
A look at the sharp increase in ratings leading up to the NFL's showcase game is probably an indication to that, but Major League Baseball has the same phenomenon. Their ratings go through the roof through the league championship series and, of course, the World Series. However, you don't see networks scrambling to sign the Arizona Fall League to a network contract and there is a very logical reason for that.
The Arizona Fall League is not Major League Baseball.
By similar reasoning, the XFL is not the National Football League, nor does McMahon have the financial wherewithal to compete with them for talent. McMahon's net worth is roughly equivalent to the amount of money the NFL gets annually from the television networks.
"Some suggest that the NFL stands for the no fun league, the XFL is going to be the extra fun league," said McMahon (right) during the XFL's inaugural press conference. "This will be a blast ... We will take you places to where the NFL is afraid to take you." While McMahon proudly trumpets that he has brought the world what he coins "smash-mouth football," selling it will not be an easy task. There have been many instances where secondary pro football leagues have started up in the United States only to lose gobs of money and end up having to disband. Case in point, the United States Football League (USFL).
John Hogrogian, in the Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League explained the USFL deal, "The United States Football League started as a marketing idea and ended as a lawsuit. The marketing idea was that the American sports fan wanted more football than he or she could consume during the traditional September-to-January season."
The league started up in February 1983, and after becoming increasingly frustrated by the NFL stealing away all of its top talent (something that will inevitably happen to the XFL as well, and something that the CFL -- Canadian Football League -- has grown to accept) filed a lawsuit against the NFL. The courts didn't entirely throw out the case, but awarded the USFL only one dollar in damages. They were forced to disband in 1986 due to bankruptcy.
Preceding the USFL was the World Football League, which only lasted through the year 1974, and part of 1975. It was proclaimed an "embarrassment to pro football." They, like McMahon, thought that the league would take off through innovation instead of top-notch talent. They tried such ideas as having players wear pants color coded by position.
In an effort to boost attendance, the WFL gave tickets to most of its games away for nothing. They under-estimated startup costs and over-estimated revenues. The XFL feels that it can start up with $100 million and become a profitable venture in under three years.
Eventually, the WFL ran into financial difficulties. It was unilaterally decided that each player would receive one percent of his team's income. If the team was not profitable, they would get $500 per game. Even with these limited costs, the league collapsed. It folded on October 20, 1975.
Perhaps the most successful competing league to the NFL to-date is the World League of American Football, which started up in 1991. This league was backed financially by the NFL and included not only cities in North America, but also cities in Europe. Despite the financial backing, the league folded up tent in 1992 due to disinterest from the American public.
In 1995 the league started up again, in a new incarnation: NFL Europe. The difference, however, is that none of the teams reside in North America. The league currently only has six teams and costs are kept to a minimum. No talk of further expansion has been made.
The main difference between these leagues and the XFL was that the other leagues were run by football people. The XFL is run by Vince McMahon who, while a wizard at marketing wrestling, has never been successful in any other department. In the early 1990s he started up a World Bodybuilding Federation that was a huge financial failure. In the '80s he also tried his hand at boxing, but took a financial blood bath in that department as well.
The sad fact of it all for the WWF is that Americans only want big-league football, and will only pay to watch big-league football. Unfortunately for Vince McMahon, instead of learning from other people's mistakes he's going to have to find that out the hard way, just like the leagues before him.
Some advice to those in the football league cemetery: make sure you leave a plot open for "smash-mouth football."
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PICTURES: copyright © 2000 XFL.