WWE founder and chairman Vince McMahon announced Thursday he is giving a professional football league another go.
It will be called the XFL, the same name of the league McMahon and NBC tried for one season in 2001, but it won’t rely on flashy cheerleaders and antics as its predecessor did, he said.
McMahon said he is the sole funding source for the league, which is slated to begin in January 2020. Its first season will have eight teams around the country playing a 10-week schedule. The initial outlay of money is expected to be around $100 million, the same amount of WWE stock McMahon sold last month and funneled into Alpha Entertainment, the company he founded for the project.
“I wanted to do this since the day we stopped the other one,” McMahon told ESPN in an exclusive interview. “A chance to do it with no partners, strictly funded by me, which would allow me to look in the mirror and say, ‘You were the one who screwed this up,’ or ‘You made this thing a success.'”
McMahon told reporters on Thursday afternoon that he has had no initial talks with media entities.
One mark of the new league, McMahon said, will be faster games. The ideal running time, he said, would be two hours.
As for the timing of the announcement, two years before the league’s debut, many might point to McMahon’s relationship with President Donald Trump, who this fall criticized the NFL for allowing its players to kneel and sit during the national anthem. McMahon said players in his league will not be given the forum to take a personal stance while on the playing field. McMahon’s wife, Linda, heads the Small Business Administration in Trump’s Cabinet.
“People don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained,” McMahon said. “We want someone who wants to take a knee to do their version of that on their personal time.”
Despite his relationship with President Trump, McMahon told reporters he had “no idea whether President Trump will support this.”
McMahon said being the only owner of all of the teams will allow him to do whatever he wants.
“I can say, ‘Here are the rules, and as long as you are playing football in the stadium for us, you follow these rules.'”
McMahon also said he would preclude any player with a criminal record.
“We are evaluating a player based on many things, including the quality of human being they are,” McMahon said. “If you have any sort of criminal record or commit a crime you aren’t playing in this league.”
Vince McMahon’s re-upped league is good news for the 1,000-plus players who are cut from NFL rosters every year. But it’ll come with lots of caveats.
McMahon was asked by reporters specifically about Johnny Manziel, Colin Kaepernick and Tim Tebow playing in the XFL.
Manziel, the former Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, had had some legal issues. Manziel was charged with a misdemeanor that carried a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine after he was accused of hitting and threatening a former girlfriend. But he reached a dismissal agreement that ultimately could clear him of the charges.
“You want someone who does not have any criminality associated whatsoever with them. Even if you have a DUI you will not play in the XFL,” McMahon told reporters. “So that will probably eliminate some of them. Not all of them. If Tim Tebow wants to play, he can very well play.”
Manziel tweeted at McMahon to express his interested in playing in the league.
One of the main problems with the ill-fated previous XFL was timing — the first games were played a year after the concept was announced. Adding an additional year, McMahon said, will allow for a better product. Teams will be formed in 2019.
“It’s extremely important that we have time to get together and get them practicing so we can have a quality product,” McMahon said.
One of the reasons McMahon thinks he will be able to succeed 19 years after the league first failed is because, he said, television ratings no longer dictate success.
“To me the landscape has changed in so many different ways,” McMahon said. “Just look at technology and companies like Facebook and Amazon bidding for sports rights. Even if ratings go down, there’s no denying that live sports rights continue to be valuable and continue to deliver.”
One of the ways McMahon envisions enticing major media partners is to offer them something the NFL hasn’t: more creative feeds of the same game.
“I don’t think people want to see the same thing when they’re streaming as they see on television,” McMahon said. “That’s boring. I think fans want it shot in a totally different way, and I think there’s an immersive opportunity that’s more interactive to the game.”
McMahon said seeing the NFL’s troubles, which included a second consecutive year of a decline in ratings, didn’t have to do with the timing of his announcement.
“The start of this league has nothing to do with the NFL’s troubles,” McMahon said. “What has happened there is their business, and I’m not going to knock those guys, but I am going to learn from their mistakes as anyone would if they were tasked with reimagining a new football league.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told ESPN that the league will have no comment on McMahon’s upstart league.
Over the next couple of months, the XFL will announce the eight cities, expected to be large and medium-sized markets, where the teams will play. Team names will follow.
“Every city is on our radar,” McMahon told reporters.
Then will come selection of players for the 40-man rosters. Salaries will be determined, but McMahon said players will make more money for winning.
“To me that’s common sense,” McMahon said. “Everyone in America lives when they perform, they get a raise or bonus. That’s capitalism.”
Although the season is only 10 weeks, McMahon said the contract will be a 52-week job so players can work themselves into the communities where they play.
It is not clear whether star players, should they garner national attention, will be able to jump to the NFL.
“One thing we are not is a development league for the NFL,” McMahon said.
McMahon said he decided to go with the XFL name even though his new league won’t provide the same gimmicks that were both a hallmark and a black mark on the original league.
“Quite frankly I looked at a number of things, but nothing resonated like the XFL. There’s only so many things that have ‘FL’ on the end of them and those are already taken. But we aren’t going to have much of what the XFL had, including the cheerleaders, who aren’t really part of the game anymore. The audience wants entertainment with football, and that’s what we are going to give them.”
That means popular names such as Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, won’t be given priority just because they are marketable. Everyone will come in on an even playing field, McMahon said.
“Maybe in a certain city having the old college quarterback would make sense, but only if he’s the best option,” McMahon said. “It’s the wrong thing to do just for marketing.”
McMahon told reporters that, unlike the last XFL, he doesn’t have any plans to be visible during the league’s games or with the league’s content. Similarly, McMahon said that there will be no crossover with the league and WWE talent.