America watched as the next incarnation of professional football fizzled before it could even get a championship game in. The Alliance of American Football (AAF) enjoyed a strong opening weekend and general positive buzz about their product, but after a couple of stagnant weeks, the league offices shuttered their own doors, failing to make good on their promise.
Prospective fans of the budding XFL weren't buying into the hype too quickly, having seen the demise of the USFL, McMahon's first rendition of the XFL, NFL Europe, and most recently the AAF. Professional football did not seem to have a foothold outside of the NFL.
Yet within minutes of the first kickoff in Washington D.C. on Saturday afternoon, the positive vibes surrounding this new source of American entertainment came rolling in. Twitter accounts burned with excitement over the product that was being rolled out. Quirky new rules and gimmicks appeared to make sense and weren't a hindrance to the viewers. The prospect of having a player completely screw up the game for their team and be immediately asked "What the heck were you thinking, man?" by any plethora of sideline reporters became compelling television almost immediately.
When Oliver Luck was asked about how similar his league would look to their undeclared older brother, he told the media that it wouldn't look anything the same. While the game still has its core values, the product pushes areas football hasn't dared stray into. Betting lines directly on tickers, commentators freely allowed to react to the line and how each play impacts that coveted figure. XFL team social media accounts are encouraged to be a little wild with their content, driving interest in a league so few expected to be generally entertaining.
What's more: the actual football is compelling! Skill position players whose names you actually recognize, double flea flickers that work like a charm, punishing tackles amateur viewers have been craving since the dreaded yellow laundry constantly looms over any brush of the opponent's helmet.
It wasn't just the average fan that saw the possible brilliance developing before them. Well followed personalities even got in on the action too:
Transparency among the entire process of the game made you feel attached to the action that you could never see on an NFL Sunday. Insights from hearing the coach call his fifteen syllable play call to the referees discussing replays as if he was in your living room reviewing the play like we all do with our buddies. Seeing the video review guy wince over tough decisions like my friends and I do on tough calls brings yourself even closer to the process of the entire game, not just the cuts a producer wants you to see.
The eternal problem for leagues such as the XFL is "How to get people in the seats". Playing in major markets and major venues were excellent starting points, but each franchise did a remarkable job of making such that any interested fans were in the stadium once the players lined up for kickoff.
17, 163 packed Audi Field to watch the Defenders stifle the Dragons.
17,815 ventured into TDECU Stadium in Houston to catch a night of football.
17, 634 walked into Metlife Stadium to see the New York's next great football team.
17, 026 stuffed an old baseball park to see Dallas' next championship run.
Fan engagement translates into higher levels of success. The XFL understands that if they want to continue building upon the success that they earned this weekend, they'll need consistent and competitive play throughout the next month of football to keep people coming back for more action.
The XFL doesn't have to be the NFL, it just has to be competitive and engaging, something that they did well in their first weekend. What comes next will determine the direction for the fate of the league.
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