Amidst Super Bowl news came surprise headlines of the new family-friendly XFL set with 10 strict rules.
The year was 2001 and the XFL was ready to take America by storm. Learning from past failed attempts to compete with the National Football League, entrepreneur Vince McMahon thought he had a blueprint for giving football fans what they wanted. The fun missing from NFL football, a unique view closer to the action and the showmanship typical of his successful World Wresting Entertainment empire.
Co-owner NBC broadcasted the games along with celebrity announcers like Jesse Ventura and the most scantily dressed cheerleaders we'd ever seen. The highest rated game even promised a "halftime look inside a cheerleader's locker room". As the NFL forbid players dating cheerleaders, the XFL encouraged it. It included eight teams with league connected names like the LA Xtreme and featured nicknames on the back of players jerseys. The most famous being running back Rod Smart, better known and always remembered to this day as "He Hate Me".
Perhaps it's greatest innovative achievement was the audio, now adapted for all NFL telecasts. When you hear Aaron Rodgers scream "Green 18" or remember Peyton Manning's legendary "Omaha", you can credit the XFL.
Then McMahon conceded he lost $35M on an initial $100M investment while NBC pulled out of the broadcast contract. After only one season, it ceased operation. The entire concept fell faster and was more unsuccessful than a Cleveland Browns draft.
Flash forward to the end of January and the shocking announcement that the XFL will be reborn again in 2020 in a new form. The basics include 8 teams with 40-man rosters, 10 regular season weeks with a 4-team semi-final playoff format including a championship.
Ever the marketing genius, this time around McMahon is seizing on the current culture of NFL fans and no surprise, his close relationship with President Donald J. Trump. That means rule number one of their supposed ten sacred rule list will be no political affiliations. In their language, that means all players will have to stand for the national anthem with no protest nor any individual, personal causes allowed.
But wait a minute, doesn't that fly in the face of democracy? Not really, as the XFL will not be a franchise owned league. It will be entirely controlled by McMahon under guidelines and sold in a partnership agreement with application cities. Those cities may be secondary markets like a Birmingham or Sacramento or perhaps a familiar NFL location like Pittsburgh or Chicago. In keeping with the "All-American" theme the XFL are planning a red, white and blue emblem.
Rule two will be no players with any arrest record. From their press conference, McMahon was barking that would stretch from serious offenses like sexual harassment and drugs charges down to a DUI. Here's wagering the best attorneys will be busy next year clearing misdemeanors while getting several players ready for tryouts. Although this league will be starved for familiar names at quarterback, don't look for Johnny Manziel under center, but a Tim Tebow would be given the red carpet.
And speaking of carpets, swept under the rug may be the most suspicious and questionable part of this story. McMahon's history of steroid controversy and deaths connected to his WWE business. The current climate of pro football is quite different now than 2001 and the spotlight will be shining bright on player safety this time. No such thing as concussion protocol back then. And should any player become seriously injured or hospitalized due to any drug related problem, it could close this new version league down even quicker than before.
The Eleventh Rule
Wishing I was at the introductory press conference, I would have stood and asked the question, "Were you part motivated Mr. McMahon to renew the XFL by optimism that the U.S. could soon legalize sports betting? An important aspect that not even popular online wagering for sports was readily available for the XFL in 2001".
After he likely would vehemently deny it, the key factor is that in 2001 online gambling was in its early infancy. It was nowhere near what it is today along with the more sophisticated street trade of bookmakers increasing current NFL football wagering into the billions.
The timing of XFL football in 2020 is slated for after the Super Bowl. Traditionally, the fallout and depression period for football bettors commencing six months of tenacious wagering. Think of a two-pack smoker going cold turkey. The six-week wait until NCAA Basketball Tournament March Madness is prime territory for major sports betting void.
Whether the Supreme Court of the United States decides to repeal PASPA in any form remains seriously in doubt. A repeal in any form or non-repeal opens a strong opportunity for any top online sportsbook. A Bovada, BetOnline or Diamond Sports could certainly market the XFL with sign-up opportunities, contests, promotions and bonuses. To think the 2020 sports gambling aspect for the U.S. didn't enter McMahon's mind among his complex business plan is absurd.
Ironically, the NBA seems to be the only proactive and outspoken league in favor of potential legalized expansion of U.S. sports wagering. I could envision the new XFL creating an entire marriage agreement. They would likely welcome betting into their arenas and pioneer wagering company logos on player jerseys. Who knows, maybe even be the first to breakthrough sponsorship agreements for their stars? Bring back Rod Smart. Only this time he might be known as "Me Love MGM Resorts".
Glenn Greene covers the games from a betting angle every week exclusively at OSGA.com. For weekly betting insights, inlcuding previews and picks from Glenn, click here.