The XFL is coming back, and I for one am delighted. This world has long needed a minor league of professional football, there’s plenty of room for it in the spring and early summer sports seasons, and Vince McMahon and company got very close to getting the brand off the ground the first time they tried this, way back in 2001. This despite lots and lots of issues, most of which have been well-documented. This second go-round looks about as well-funded as the first attempt and seems far better-conceived. With all the cable and Internet sports networks out there nowadays, and with all of them just aching for football content, the XFL appears to fill a void in the national consciousness that is in dire need of filling.
|RB Rod Smart became the face of the XFL.|
I liked the XFL. I was living in a series of business-suite hotel rooms during its original run, working as a relocating logistics consultant based primarily out of Hartford, Connecticut. The XFL gave me something to watch when I would otherwise have found myself drinking alone at some overly-chromed hotel bar. I was basically living out of my car at the time—granted, on an expense account, but still. I spent several of those early XFL games with a beer in one hand and a phone in the other, talking to an Atlanta-based pharmacist that my friend Amber introduced me to. It turned out that we didn’t have any kind of deep physical connection, but man, that girl knew her football.
I remember those games fondly.
The original XFL started with eight teams. They had a few traditionally large media markets, like New York/New Jersey and San Francisco, but the more successful clubs sat outside the NFL’s footprint. Orlando, Vegas, and Memphis all had teams, with the Orlando Rage standing out as the league’s most successful in terms of local community support.
|A good piece of branding.|
So. If you’re Vince MacMahon, where would you put your teams?
Orlando is the obvious first choice after the last time, and St. Louis just lost a pro football team despite having a large media market that can obviously support one. The Raiders are moving to Las Vegas, so I’m not sure that still makes sense, but maybe it does. Barring that, I’d favor someplace like El Paso or Tucson, particularly if paired with a regional rival from San Antonio, Austin, or Ft. Worth. The XFL could borrow an idea from college football and establish rivalry trophies. The southwestern teams might play for something like the Alamo Cup. Hell, they could make it a title belt. The Alamo Belt. That would put asses in seats, I think, especially if they got Johnny Manziel to quarterback one of the teams in contention for it.
Omaha is another city that gets tossed around a lot in these kinds of discussions. That seems like a tough sell to me, but the city has a population just under 500K, making it almost twice as large as Orlando, so what do I know? But that begs another question. If you put a team in Omaha, then who do they play as a rival? Maybe Salt Lake City? Or maybe you go the other way with it, and give them a “city slicker” rival from someplace like Jersey City, New Jersey, or Long Island. Colleagues in my office suggested Syracuse, but that strikes me as a tough sell, and anyway, Western New York is one of the most rural places in America. That doesn’t sell the city-slicker mojo in my mind. Also, the Long Island Ducks are arguably the most successful independent professional sports franchise in America.
|The Omaha Nighthawks were part of the short-lived UFL.|
The Western (Alamo) Division
El Paso & San Antonio
Oklahoma City & Portland
Eastern (Key) Division
Omaha & Long Island
Orlando & Memphis
The division nicknames push the theoretically family-friendly patriotic themes that McMahon has signaled his league will attempt to embrace. In this, the Alamo Division is an easy choice because all of the cities in the division were among the territories taken as part of the Mexican-American War.
Naming the Key Division was a little more challenging. I very nearly called it the Jackson Division, for Andrew Jackson, American commander at the Battle of New Orleans at the end of the War of 1812. I could see McMahon going that way with it, too, given his politics. But I decided to go with something a little less politically charged and named the division after Francis Scott Key, composer of the National Anthem—also during the War of 1812. McMahon has already said that his players will stand for the National Anthem, so why no go all in with it?
So tell me. What did I miss?