Did somebody just out-XFL the XFL?

xfl fans orlando

Baseball may be the de jure national pastime and the NFL may be the de facto national pastime, but, heretofore, the official sport of ALDLAND always has been the XFL. Almost twenty years ago, the brash and innovative XFL upended the stogy NFL with a fan-first (or certainly not player-first) approach that, while not long-lasting in its then-current form, lives on through a variety of changes it forced the NFL to make to stay current with its most ardent fans.

Almost two decades after the XFL folded, however, the NFL under Roger Goodell is as stiff and outdated as it’s ever appeared, which made initial reports that Vince McMahon was bringing the XFL back welcome news indeed in many quarters, including this virtual one. The NFL once again is ripe for upheaval, and a revived XFL seemed like just the vehicle for the job once again. Unfortunately, further revelations from McMahon have made clear that the new XFL, which is planned to resume play in 2020, has a mission devoid of the brash, raw, boundary-pushing, potentially/probably dangerous approach the league took in 2001:

On January 25, 2018, Alpha Entertainment announced a new incarnation of the XFL, which would begin with a 10-week inaugural season beginning in January or February 2020. In a press conference, McMahon stated that the new XFL would be dissimilar to its previous incarnation, stating that “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 original 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.” McMahon stated that the league would feature eight teams as a single entity owned by Alpha (the previous XFL was also a single-entity league), which will be revealed in 2019. Alpha Entertainment was established in order to keep the league’s management and operations separate from that of WWE.

The XFL will discourage political gestures by players during games (such as, for example, taking a knee in protest), and will forbid any player with a criminal record from participating. He justified this by stating that the XFL would be “evaluating a player based on many things, including the quality of human being they are”, and that “people don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained”. He suggested that players who wish to express political opinions should do so on their personal time.

He’s had a lot of success, but here, McMahon’s being too big of an idiot in too many ways. The second coming of the XFL wasn’t going to be a cookie-cutter version of the first edition, of course, but its organizing principle, by McMahon’s own admission, has nothing to do with football. Nobody ever thought the XFL would offer a better on-field product than the NFL because the best players always play for the most money, but you’re lying if you said you thought the XFL would return to play the role of a more conservative NFL. (And not to get too deep into the water here, but does anyone think he could’ve saved a lot of words by just saying he only wants white players?) What a waste.

Thankfully, somebody else saw an opening here. That somebody is Charlie Ebersol, the son of Dick Ebersol, the longstanding NBC executive who, along with McMahon, formed the original XFL. Charlie, who directed the recent 30 for 30 movie about the XFL, plans to scoop his father’s former partner by debuting his new league, the Alliance of American Football, a year earlier than XFL 2.0:

The league plans to kick off on February 9th, 2019, one week after the Super Bowl, with 50-man rosters and a ten-week season.

The news just gets worse and worse for the XFL, as Ebersol’s league has already recruited some heavy hitters from the NFL world. Ebersol has brought in retired Indianapolis Colts General Manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian to help oversee the league, with former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu doing the same for the player side of the new venture and former USC star J.K. McKay for the team side. Adding to the league’s growing star power are Hines Ward, Justin Tuck and Dick Ebersol, who are all league advisors.

The league’s financial backing comes from a variety of sources, including former Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Jared Allen, Billionaire Peter Thiel and the Chernin Group. This stands in contrast to McMahon, who is financing his new XFL through personal wealth. That creates more upside for him personally, but Ebersol is taking a longer view of his new league saying “I think where businesses like this fail is that they expect to have ludicrous and unrealistic ticket and media deal projections in Year 1. Our investors here understand that it’s a 7-10-year plan.”

Significantly, AAF already has a television broadcast deal with CBS, and it claims it also will offer live streaming on a free mobile app. Plus, according to an ESPN report, there will be no TV timeouts, substantially fewer commercials, and mandatory two-point-conversion attempts after every touchdown.

The younger Ebersol hasn’t said much about the AAF’s broader mission beyond a general goal to provide fans and players with a quality on-field performance which, while vague, is better than the position McMahon’s staked out. It’s tough to read the tea leaves on the league’s backers and advisors– Polian presents as an NFL-stooge type; Thiel funded the Hulk Hogan lawsuit that mortally wounded Gawker Media Group; Chernin owns a majority of Barstool Sports and recently upped its stake; and Polamalu, Ward, Tuck, and Allen all seem like fun, personable characters in the former-player role.

The XFL of 2001 may never (and arguably shouldn’t) return, but, sitting here today, I have far greater hope in what the AAF can offer the world of football than I do in McMahon’s soft retread effort.

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Related
Pre/Postmodern football fans rejoice: The SPFL cometh

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Erin Andrews says the NFL enforces an in-game press embargo

Erin Andrews, an NFL sideline reporter for Fox, told Stephen Colbert last night (4:37 mark of the above video) that she is not allowed to report actual comments she hears from players or coaches.

“I hear the craziest things you could ever imagine,” Andrews said, explaining that she wished she could report them, but “the NFL doesn’t allow that.” Instead, she said, she is required to “paraphrase” what she hears in very general terms. Andrews wouldn’t elaborate on potential consequences of such reporting, saying only that “it’s just a rule, as a sideline reporter, I cannot repeat verbatim what I hear on the sideline.”

No sports entity is more interested in image control than the NFL (although execution sometimes is a different question), so it’s not shocking that Roger Goodell would have a gag order in place to keep what he undoubtedly sees as his reporters from relating to the public the actual comments of what he undoubtedly sees as his players.

This really shouldn’t come as a surprise if you recall the story that broke over the summer, when the league dictated to NBC which announcers the network was required to use on its Thursday and Sunday night broadcasts.

In the professional football world, the NFL Network is state-run media, obviously, but little leaks like the NBC Al Michaels/Mike Tirico story and Andrews’ revelation last night serve as gentle reminders that, for the NFL, there is no such thing as an independent press.

Baseball’s faithless electors

My latest post for Banished to the Pen considers the Tampa Bay Rays, the faithless electors of the vote on the 2016 MLB collective bargaining agreement, and it includes this picture:

drays

The full post is available here.

Sports Law Roundup – 12/16/2016

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • NBA CBA: Like baseball, the NBA has a new collective-bargaining agreement. Full details are not yet public, but it appears there will be salary cap and luxury tax changes, as well as an increase– from thirteen to fourteen– in the number of guaranteed roster spots for each team. The league also has agreed to shorten the preseason and expand the calendar length of the regular season without increasing the number of regular season games. One aspect that will not change is the manner in which the players and owners divide basketball-related income. The players conceded roughly seven percent (approximately from 57% to 50%) during the last lockout in 2011.
  • NFL concussion settlement: Earlier this year, the NFL settled a class-action lawsuit brought by former players seeking compensation for ongoing problems related to head injuries suffered during their professional football careers by agreeing to provide a fund to compensate former players for the next sixty-five years. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the settlement, but a small subset of the class members– approximately thirty of 22,000– were dissatisfied with the settlement, believing it was underinclusive because it did not provide relief for former players who develop CTE, the disease found in people who suffer from repeated brain trauma that, at this time, is not detectable while the player is alive. Seeking further review of the settlement, these plaintiffs petitioned the Supreme Court. On Monday, the Court declined to grant their petition, leaving in place the Third Circuit’s ruling. It is unclear whether these objecting plaintiffs have any further recourse, though they likely are watching the new lawsuit highlighted in this space last month that specifically addresses CTE.
  • Student-athlete classification: As discussed here last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected claims by a group of former Penn student-athletes that they are employees entitled to minimum-wage compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Now, those students plan to request en banc review, meaning that they will ask the full panel of Seventh Circuit judges to reconsider the decision. (Federal circuit courts typically hear cases in three-judge panels, even though more than three judges make up each of the federal circuit courts. Aside from an appeal to the Supreme Court, which may not even be accepted, the only way to reverse a circuit court ruling is to ask the full court to do so.) The plaintiffs contend that the amateur aspect of collegiate athletics the ruling noted is not pertinent to an FLSA analysis, and that the Seventh Circuit’s decision “conflicts with decisions in this and other circuits on employee status.”
  • Raiders stadium: In an apparent attempt to keep the Raiders from moving to Los Angeles or Las Vegas, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to support the building of a new football stadium in Oakland that– unlike the new basketball arena being built for the NBA’s Warriors that will relocate them from Oakland to San Francisco–  would be funded, in significant part, with public money. The Board’s vote does not guarantee that the Raiders will stay in Oakland.
  • Rams fans: St. Louis-area holders of Rams personal seat licenses suing the team after its move to Los Angeles now have requested class-action status. The plaintiffs are seeking a variety of forms of relief, including reimbursement for tickets and concessions. A judge already has ruled that some of the plaintiffs who want the team to continue to honor the licenses by allowing the St. Louis fans to purchase season tickets at the team’s new home in L.A. are entitled to do so.
  • NFL broadcasting: The plaintiffs in an antitrust lawsuit targeting NFL Sunday Ticket, the product of the exclusive agreement between the NFL and DirecTV for the television broadcasting of out-of-market NFL games, won an apparently significant victory when Fox and CBS agreed to produce documents evidencing their own Sunday-Ticket-related agreements with the league and DirecTV in connection with a judge’s discovery order. The NFL contends that the plaintiffs have failed to allege an antitrust violation because the NFL can decide how to broadcast its games, and the Sunday Ticket package represents an addition to viewers’ existing options (i.e., the one or two games available each Sunday afternoon on Fox and CBS, plus the national Thursday/Sunday night/Monday night broadcasts) rather than a restriction.
  • Secondary ticket market: The President has signed the BOTS Act, a bill that expands the authority of the Federal Trade Commission to regulate the online secondary market for event tickets. The new law seeks to prohibit “ticket bots and other online tools that deliberately circumvent security protocols limiting or restricting online ticket purchases.” Here’s hoping this law will provide a more meaningful benefit to sports fans than the NFL’s practically meaningless agreement to end its league-wide imposition of a price floor on game tickets sold on the secondary market.
  • Formula One acquisition: Liberty Media, the company that owns the Atlanta Braves, will acquire auto-racing series Formula One for $4.4 billion. According to a reputable source, F1 cars are the fastest in the world among road-course racing cars.
  • MLB CBA: I wrote about the new CBA in this space after the league and players union reached their agreement on November 30. Now we have more information about the particularities of the agreement, and this analysis provides a helpful overview. We also learned that the Tampa Bay Rays were the only team to vote against approving the agreement. In a public statement, the Rays’ general managing partner made reference to an “opportunity [that] was missed” to “address the extraordinary and widening competitive gap that exists on-field between higher and lower revenue clubs.”

Sports court is in recess.

Baseball Notes: The WAR on Robbie Ray

baseball notes

There are a few things we know with reasonable certainty about Robbie Ray. He was born on October 1, 1991 just south of Nashville in Brentwood, Tennessee. In 2010, the Washington Nationals drafted him in the twelfth round of the amateur draft. The Nationals traded him, along with two other players, to the Detroit Tigers in 2013 in exchange for Doug Fister. A year later, the Tigers traded him to the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of a three-team trade that netted the Tigers Shane Green and the New York Yankees Didi Gregorius. So far, Ray has seen major-league action as a starting pitcher with the Tigers and Diamondbacks. He showed promise in his first three appearances (two starts and an inning of relief), for Detroit. He showed less promise in his remaining six appearances– four starts and two relief innings– for that team. Things have ticked back up for Ray since his arrival in the desert, however.

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Most baseball fans likely have some familiarity with the player-valuation concept of wins above replacement player, usually labeled WAR. What many fans may not realize, however, is that there actually are three different versions of the WAR statistic. The goal of each version is the same: to determine a comprehensive valuation of an individual baseball player. Each takes slightly different paths to reach that comprehensive valuation, but they typically reach similar conclusions about a given player, such that it’s common to see or hear a player’s WAR cited without specific reference to the particular version utilized.

For example, the three versions– Baseball-Reference’s WAR (“rWAR”), FanGraphs’ WAR (“fWAR”), and Baseball Prospectus’ WARP (“WARP”)– all agree that Mike Trout had a great 2016. He finished the season with 10.6 rWAR, 9.4 fWAR, and 8.7 WARP, good for first, first, and second by each metric, respectively. For another example, they also agree about Trout’s former MVP nemesis, Miguel Cabrera: 4.9 rWAR, 4.9 fWAR, 3.9 WARP. (In my anecdotal experience, WARP tends to run a little lower than rWAR and fWAR for all players.)

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While the WAR varietals typically and generally concur, that isn’t always the case. Pitchers can be particularly susceptible to this variance, because the measurement of pitching performance is one of the areas in which the three metrics are most different. Continue reading

2015 Detroit Red Wings Playoff Preview

The longest active playoff-appearance streak in American professional sports is alive and well. This is the good news in Detroit, where the Red Wings are preparing for their twenty-fourth consecutive NHL postseason. Their first-round opponent: the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The smart hockey folks predicted a very bad hockey season for the Wings, so the team should take some extra satisfaction in this postseason appearance. (They were right to project improvement by Justin Abdelkader, but less so for Luke Glendenning.) Their reward for consistently above-average production all season long was third place in the Atlantic Division, one spot behind their first-round opponents in Tampa Bay.

The Lightning, who got the better of Detroit in their four meetings this season, present a difficult challenge for the Red Wings.

Two areas where Detroit would seem to have an advantage, goaltending and powerplay scoring, may be mitigated by external factors. April is a bad time to host an internal goaltending competition, but neither of the team’s two primary options, Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek, has been able to carry the load to the satisfaction of coach Mike Babcock, who today announced that Mrazek will start game one. A question mark in net is not part of a winning playoff formula, but this is part of the hand these Red Wings have been dealt.

The powerplay advantage is nice, but powerplay opportunities are at their lowest in at least the last seventeen seasons, which means Detroit is likely to have fewer chances to leverage this advantage, particularly in the playoffs, where penalties already are reduced.

Detroit still has some of the best veteran and young players in the sport, as I was fortunate enough to witness in two wins against top teams (Nashville and St. Louis) this season. By my count, they had a .500 record against other playoff teams this season. They will be underdogs in this round and likely any others to which they advance, but if their defense can hold up, they have a fair shot of doing so.

There’s nothing like playoff hockey – enjoy!

The Sound of Madness

gusjohnson

Hello Madness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again,
because a vision loudly creeping
left its seeds while I was sleeping,
and the aural vision that was planted in my brain
still remains
within the sound of Madness.

Last night, Fox Sports Live teased us by announcing a late-March appearance on their program of the great Gus Johnson, the Detroiter who rose to prominence as a college basketball announcer for CBS, working the NCAA men’s basketball tournament from 1996 to 2011. If you don’t recognize his name, surely you’ll recognize his voice. In short, Johnson was the genuine article, calling wild tournament games with pitch-perfect passion. None were better. None could be better. Cry while you while away your day with the Gus Johnson Soundboard.

Cry because, in 2011, Fox Sports hired Johnson away from CBS, and CBS let him leave, but CBS retained the broadcast rights to the tournament. Fox’s attempt to convert Johnson into the American voice of soccer did not work.

In Johnson’s absence, CBS appears to have tabbed Bill Raftery as Johnson’s spiritual replacement, a role for which he is ill-suited because 1) Johnson himself is irreplaceable and 2) Raftery is not a good broadcaster. That second point is an Unpopular Internet Opinion, so you have to read another paragraph on the subject.

Raftery seems ok enough in one-on-one settings away from a basketball broadcast, such as this segment on last week’s episode of Garbage Time. Get him on an NCAA tournament broadcast, though, and he is the worst. In a word: unlistenable. I’ve never heard anyone work so hard to consciously fabricate an air of spontaneous passion. Raftery is the unintentionally funny kid in high school who became self-aware, realized why people liked him and thought he was funny, and then actively tried to replicate his past affect to gain popularity, something that’s even more tortured to witness than this sentence is to read. Raftery is Tony Montana, who becomes a reckless wreck after buying too deeply into his own product. I’d rather hear Brian Collins call a tournament game than Bill Raftery.

The present situation is untenable. There can be no missions accomplished, no peace in our time without a reunification of Gus Johnson and the NCAA tournament. Messrs. Berson and Shanks: Tear Down This Wall.

And the people bowed and prayed
to the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning
in the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
and tenement halls
and whispered in the sound of Madness.”

#FreeGusJohnson