Vince McMahon’s rebooted XFL is attempting to streamline the game of football ahead of its 2020 launch, marking the latest effort by an upstart league to shake the NFL’s monopoly on the sport.
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XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck said the league is actively market testing potential rule changes to develop a faster, safer on-field product compared to the traditional football the NFL has played for decades. Games will use a shorter game clock than the NFL and conclude in under three hours, he added.
McMahon tried to challenge the NFL once before. The original XFL, which arose as a joint partnership between his WWE (then called WWF) and NBC, folded in 2001 after just one season. This time, XFL officials say there is a long-term financial commitment to the league.
The rebooted entity will kick off its debut season in Feb. 2020, one week after the NFL season ends, with eight teams. While Luck said the league will “complement,” not directly challenge, the NFL, the U.S. marketplace has struggled to sustain more than one major professional football league in the past.
Here’s a look at other upstart pro football leagues that have tried – and often failed – to reinvent the sport.
United States Football League (1983-1986)
Arguably the most successful challenge to the NFL, the USFL succeeded in luring several stars to its rosters, including future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees Jim Kelly and Reggie White and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker. President Trump was one of the league’s team owners, purchasing the short-lived New Jersey Generals.
The USFL famously filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. A jury ruled that the NFL was in violation of some antitrust laws, but awarded a judgement of just $3 against the league. The USFL folded in 1986, shortly before it was set to play a fall season in direct competition with the NFL.
Founded by WWE’s McMahon and NBC Sports, the original XFL sought to unseat the NFL by offering a rougher version of traditional football. Promoted as football with fewer rules and bigger hits, the league featured such gimmicks as scantily clad cheerleaders and nicknames on the back of player jerseys.
Initially drawing widespread publicity, the XFL’s ratings quickly plummeted and the league folded after just one season, having reportedly lost $70 million.
United Football League (2009-2012)
The UFL launched with just four teams comprised primarily of players and coaches who had spent time in the NFL. The league chose to play its schedule in the fall, competing directly with NFL and NCAA football broadcasts. The UFL’s backers reportedly hoped to capitalize on the possibility that NFL owners and players would fail to reach terms on a new labor agreement in 2011, potentially setting the upstart league up as the public’s only source of football.
Beset by financial issues almost from the start, the UFL collapsed after its 2012 seasons amid lawsuits from players and coaches who alleged they were owed back salary.
Arena Football League (1987-2008, 2010-)
Played entirely indoors, the AFL uses a shorter field, narrower goalposts and other rule tweaks designed to create a high-scoring, fast style of play. The league enjoyed marginal success throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, securing media rights contracts and producing Kurt Warner, a quarterback who later won two Super Bowls with the St. Louis Rams.
The AFL began facing financial problems in the late 2000s, ultimately canceling its 2009 season and declaring bankruptcy. Featuring as many as 19 franchises at its peak, the league currently has four active teams.
Alliance of American Football (2019-)
The AAF is set to begin play in 2019, narrowly beating the XFL to market. The league’s season will begin in February, which would place it in direct competition with McMahon’s new venture.
Featuring eight teams, a 10-week regular season and a gambling partnership with MGM, the AAF counts tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel and the Chernin Group among its early investors. CBS has already secured television rights to the league.
XFL reboot (2020-)
The new XFL will feature eight teams in the following cities: New York, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington, D.C. Executives say the league will focus on creating a fast-paced, family-friendly game with cheaper game tickets and fewer commercials.