In 2001, with McMahon riding high off the WWE’s Attitude Era, Vincent Kennedy McMahon decided that he would take a rather large step into the American Football industry, dominated by the NFL and Canadian Football leagues, respectively.
In McMahon’s mind, he would create a sports revolution of fast paced and high intensity “Xtreme” football. The thought of an football league with little to no rules appealed to many fans, who believed the NFL had simply become too weighed down with commercials and regulation surrounding the players. They were looking for a style of football that could only be described as “fast and furious”.
What they got turned out to be an organisational catastrophe. The “Xtreme” aspect McMahon had promised some of the 8 million who tuned in for the first game between the New Jersey “Hitmen” and the Las Vegas “Outlaws” turned out to be nothing more than a “Human coin toss” (in which two players would scramble for the ball, the winner of which would effectively win the toss), Trash talking public address announcers and suggestively dressed cheerleaders (who were encouraged by management to date players). This lack of “real” football the fans were promised turned many of them away. Only 4 million tuned in the next week.
Of course, lost on the majority of American Football fans was McMahon’s other (and more successful) venture, WWE (then WWF, before some pandas made them get the f out…). McMahon’s insistence that XFL games should include the scripted trash talking, Kayfabe personas and “heat” on players simply did not appeal to the normal football fan. For example, when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson appeared before a Los Angeles game, nobody seemed to care. This was 2001 Wrestler Rock, not 2018 Hollywood Megastar Rock. Fans just did not want, or get, the crossover with WWF – which at times extended to having wrestling commentators Jim Ross (who is a self admitted Football fan) and Jerry Lawler (who isn’t) call matches for the audience (spoiler alert: it wasn’t very good).
Although, we can’t pretend that the XFL did set a lot of firsts, both on and off the pitch. Before the games had even begun, the XFL promotional blimp crashed while trying to fly over a playoff game in Oakland.
When they actually got to the games, they employed the tactic of an On-field cameraman – named “Bubba-Cam” (which was weird, as the WWF cameraman named Bubba then refused to operate the “Bubba-Cam”). This supposedly gave viewers an insight into what it was like to be on the field, as opposed to watching it from the safety of your own home – like any normal human. Furthermore, they set another broadcast first when during the first ever match, VKM and co. decided to change the match they were broadcasting from the “hitmen” vs “Outlaws” game to a more exciting match. This was the first time in history a football match, despite how bad it was, was cut short in favour of another game. In it’s first week. It would happen again in week 2, albeit due to technical issues.
On the pitch, the XFL seemed to be creating more problems than it was solving. Injuries were common and safety was seen as a secondary measure. Somehow, only 3 careers were ended in the first season.
By week 9, the XFL couldn’t even pull in 1 million viewers and eventually, the Las Vegas outlaws won the whole thing. Not that anyone actually cared…
The XFL was cancelled after just one year and co-owners McMahon and NBC lost around $35 Million each. Espn and NBC themselves declared it a failure, never to return.