Two years since the revival of the XFL was announced, the reincarnated and redesigned professional football league officially kicks off with doubleheaders on Saturday, February 8 and Sunday, February 9, a week after Super Bowl LIV concluded the 2019/20 NFL season.
XFL president Jeffrey Pollack said there aren’t specific metrics or target numbers for ticket sales, viewership or social engagement during the opening weekend that would be indicative of success or failure, rather citing the league’s need for growth and time.
“Success will not be determined within the first game, the first weekend, the first season,” Pollack said. “We’re taking a long-term view. We know fandom must be earned, it’s not given. We’re prepared to prove ourselves every day this season.
“This is going to take time to grow. People will need to sample us before they buy in and that’s absolutely fine with us.”
While the 2001 one-and-done XFL was based on WWE-style gimmicks and shock value rather than the product on the field, the new XFL isn’t messing around. Everything from its justified and calculated variations on rules and gameplay to broadcasting and gameday experience are geared with the fans’ interest as top priority.
The original XFL left a legacy in broadcasting with its introduction of the Skycam and on-field cameras, and this iteration hopes to positively alter broadcasts with partners ESPN/ABC and FOX Sports—who are airing all games nationally—through enhanced audio and increased access to players and coaches integrated naturally rather than staged interviews during timeouts or after a quarter or halftime.
That equates to raw emotion and quotes following touchdowns and turnovers, or replay officials explaining their decisions shortly after making them.
“One thing we share with the XFL from 19 years ago is a spirit of innovation,” Pollack said. “We think enhanced audio access is an important way to help fans get inside our game. Fortunately our world-class television partners share that spirit of innovation and spirit of experimentation.
“Some things will work, some things won’t and that’s OK. When you do something fresh, mistakes are fine.”
In its continued efforts to be brave, fresh, inclusive and fun, the XFL also announced each of its six officiating crews will feature at least one female member.
Line judges Robin DeLorenzo and Maia Chaka, and center judge Amanda Sauer-Cook were identified through their work with the now-defunct Alliance of American Football (AAF), while Sebrina Brunson (field judge), LaShell Nelson (side judge) and Tangela Mitchell (down judge) all have NCAA Division I experience.
“Our goal is always to find the best people possible,” Pollack said. “We’ve looked to attract rockstars to our league and also attract fresh faces and new voices.
“Sports should reflect society. We are sports and we want to reflect society.”
The XFL on February 5 announced a partnership with DraftKings, which will serve as the league’s Official Daily Fantasy Sports Partner and an Authorized Gaming Operator.
DraftKings users in permitted states will be able to place a variety of bets on XFL games and draft daily fantasy lineups from the eight-team league throughout the 12-week season through the XFL Championship on April 26.
FOX executives also confirmed they will show over-under and point spread lines before kickoff of every game, further embracing the increased interest in daily fantasy sports (DFS) and sports betting.
“We understand that an essential part of football fan experiences in 2020 relates to gaming, fantasy and legal sports betting,” Pollack said. “Our strategy is to listen to our fans. We want what our fans want—and this is what a lot of fans want—and we support that.”
The XFL expanded its foray into sports betting on February 7, announcing The Action Network as a preferred source of league betting analysis and information. The Action Network will create multiple content features each week including expert picks and projections for both platforms.
Whether fans are attending and tuning in for betting purposes, curiosity or pure football fandom, Pollack hopes they’ll be happy with the product and return week in and week out, while emphasizing that he, owner Vince McMahon and commissioner Oliver Luck are taking a “measured and patient” approach to the venture.
The interest, for now, appears to be there. More than one-third of those surveyed in a December 2019 poll said they would give the startup league a shot.
“Our essence can really be summarized by this notion of the love of football,” Pollack said. “That is what is driving us every day—we love the sport and we want to provide more of it to those who share our love of the sport. People love to watch football more than any other sport in the country and people bet on football more than any other sport in this country.
“We see that, we hear that and we’re geared up to provide more to all of those fans.”
XFL Opening Weekend
Saturday, February 8
Seattle Dragons at DC Defenders, 2 p.m. ET (ABC)
Los Angeles Wildcats at Houston Roughnecks, 5 p.m. ET (FOX)
Sunday, February 9
Tampa Bay Vipers at New York Guardians, 2 p.m. ET (FOX)
St. Louis BattleHawks at Dallas Renegades, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)