Alternative league excites fans in opening weekend following Super Bowl
The last time fans saw the XFL was in 2001, and it looked much different than what was seen in the reboot version of the league during its opening weekend last week.
The love of the game of football has prompted former wrestler Vince McMahon to revive the league from the abyss during its nearly two decade-long hiatus.
Upon announcing plans for the league to return in a 2018 ESPN press conference, McMahon described it as “fan-centric” and having “more of the things that the audience likes,” and “less of the things that they don’t (want to see).”
After the opening weekend, it was apparent that the league has attained a happy medium with intentions to promote a safe game while also modifying typical football rules for the enjoyment of the audience.
The unique kickoff rules favor the returner, but ultimately succeed in reducing the chance for concussions. According to a sports health study conducted in 2010, kick returners had the second-highest concussion rate of any position in football, trailing only defensive backs.
The kicking and receiving teams are to be aligned five yards apart from each other and kicks are made at the defending team’s 30-yard line. The ball must be kicked to at least the 20 yard line of the opponent and the defending team is not allowed to move until the kickoff returner gains possession of the ball. This simple rule prevents concussions that result from players running full speed at each other and slamming into another player.
The XFL has instituted stricter rules when it comes to off-field conduct. Unlike the NFL, where players with domestic violence incidents have been able to resume playing, the XFL has a zero-tolerance policy with criminal records of any kind. This means that players such as Johnny Manziel will not be able to participate.
“We are evaluating a player based on many things, including the quality of human being they are,” McMahon said in 2018. “If you have any sort of criminal record or commit a crime, you aren’t playing in this league.”
This can include a crime such as a DUI or marijuana possession. This has drawn criticism from opponents, as they argue that drug charges and domestic violence charges should not be put at the same level of severity.
The XFL intends to be supportive of betting, as live odds and spreads are placed next to the score during each game. This also grants the game broadcasters the ability to openly discuss betting throughout the game. The move has been profitable thus far, with the XFL generating more money from betting in a single week than the now defunct Alliance of American Football did in an entire season.
The only downfall of the betting is that prior to the first week there were no games played to base bets and odds off of. The roster was really the only thing people could look at to make predictions. The first week already saw a heavily-favored team lose: the Dallas Renegades. In future weeks, oddsmakers will have results to formulate game spreads.
While the first weekend of the league was deemed successful, with an average television audience of more than 3 million for the four games, time will tell if these rates hold up.
In comparison to how other past football leagues performed in their inaugural year, the fan and player-based approach is one that the XFL has emphasized, and it will likely help maintain the audience viewership and the overall popularity of the league.