Apr 14, 2020 - Sports

XFL falls victim to the coronavirus

A deflated football.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The XFL filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday, marking the second straight year that an upstart football league has shuttered without finishing its debut season.

Yes, but: Unlike the Alliance of American Football, which folded due to mismanagement and a lack of funding, the XFL — which was off to a surprisingly strong start — fell victim to the coronavirus.

Why it matters: This reflects how the pandemic has devastated the live sports industry, with sources suggesting that other shoestring leagues could soon meet a similar fate.

What we learned: The XFL is owned by WWE boss Vince McMahon and Alpha Entertainment, and according to the filing, the WWE also owned 23.5% of Class B stock.

  • That came as a surprise, with some pointing to comments McMahon made in the past about the two companies being "completely separate."

What they're saying:

"The XFL got off to a hot start from a viewership perspective, drawing 3.12 million viewers in Week 1. By the time Week 5 rolled around, that number had been cut in half. Still, there were signs of life. The St. Louis BattleHawks had reportedly sold 45,000 tickets to their next game before the league shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak."
— Darren Rovell, Action Network

The big picture: When the original XFL debuted 19 years ago, game broadcasts featured a "sky cam" and mic'd up players — two things the NFL has since adopted. What innovations will the NFL adopt from the XFL 2.0?

  • The reinvented kickoffs were fun (only the kicker and receiver can move before the ball is caught), and I personally enjoyed the shortened play clock (25 seconds instead of 40).
  • But, like its predecessor, the XFL's lasting impact will likely be felt most on the broadcast side of things. The all-access presentation was undeniably awesome, and putting viewers inside the replay booth made for great TV.

The bottom line: As it turns out, it is very hard to start a football league — and virtually impossible amid a pandemic.

  • After the failings of the AAF and XFL, it could be a while before another one pops up, and I remain fully convinced that the only way we'll ever get a sustainable spring football league is if its owned and operated by the NFL.
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