WWE CEO Vince McMahon announced in January his plans to bring back the XFL that lasted only one season in 2001. The XFL held a press conference last Wednesday to reveal the eight cities that will host XFL teams when the league kicks off in 2020.
While the original XFL flopped due to lousy football on the field and a circus-like atmosphere off the field, the league was innovated on the media and technology front.
Some of the TV coverage innovations the XFL pioneered the NFL adopted including the “sky cam” and mic’ed players during the game.
With all the technology that is available now that no one could even imagine in 2001 during the XFL’s first and only season, the new league has probably the best opportunity of any sports league currently in operation to create a league that is built for the 21st century.
Unlike the NFL, the XFL does not have to worry about potentially offending TV partners that pay billions of dollars for TV rights by signing contracts with online streaming services in addition to TV. Airing Thursday night games on Amazon in addition to Fox probably does not make Fox extremely happy that they have to share their coverage with Amazon.
The XFL has no TV or online partners yet. The league can structure their media rights any way they want to. Look for innovation when it comes to media rights deals with the XFL. The field is wide-open for them to sign contracts with any traditional or digital media outlet. Since the league is new, traditional TV partners will be more understanding if they sign online rights in addition to a broadcast or cable TV deal.
Or, the league could go digital only and bypass traditional TV all together. McMahon stated in his XFL revival announcement that TV ratings would not be the only factor that determines if the XFL is a success because the media world has changed and TV ratings are not as important now as in 2001.
He already owns the digital/OTT WWE Network, which would be the logical choice to stream XFL games online. However, if he goes with his own streaming service, he should open the games up to all for free because there’s not going to be enough fans willing to pay to watch the new league. Amazon and YouTube are always great options as well. YouTube especially if he wants to reach the millennial crowd.
Another digital option is to stream all the games for free on the XFL app the league is creating. In addition to streaming games on the XFL app, the league could provide fan experiences and access to players that no other league can on the mobile app. Unlike the NFL, the league won’t have a players union and they’ll be no multi-million dollar contracts that restrict what players can and cannot do, so they can really be innovated in this area as well.
During live broadcasts of games, the XFL can experiment with technology that will make the fan experience even better by connecting what is happening on the field with the conversations occurring online on their app and social media. During XFL 1.0 there was no such thing as social media. Now that Facebook and Twitter exist, these social networks can be integrated into the game experience in real-time to make fans feel closer to the action.
The original XFL was a failure, but this time around McMahon seems to be doing everything right and taking his time to make sure he has the league more planned out than he did with the original version.
If XFL 2.0 is anything like the first from a media and technology standpoint, look for real innovation that will help create a unique fan experience that might just be adopted by rivals including the NFL.