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Almost two decades after the XFL folded, however, the NFL under Roger Goodell is as stiff and outdated as it’s ever appeared, which made initial reports that Vince McMahon was bringing the XFL back welcome news indeed in many quarters, including this virtual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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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.

Evidence that Chip Kelly definitely reads ALDLAND?

Last week, physguy highlighted a situation that can occur toward the end of each half of a football game: if the offense is driving and runs a pass play with time winding down, the defense’s best response often is to commit aggressive pass interference in order to eat the dwindling clock and avoid a touchdown. While he imposed a rule change to counter this defensive incentive, Roger Goodell and co. had not implemented it in time for this week’s games, and San Francisco head coach Chip Kelly, almost certainly having read our site last week, took advantage against the Saints on Sunday:

It can’t be more clear than that. As physguy wrote to me after seeing this play, “This Saints example . . . clearly shows that it needs to be addressed. My rule change makes it so that the defense can only force a FG by beating the offense fair and square.”

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Previously
Disincentivizing Defensive Penalties in College Football: Ten-Second Runon

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Catching Fire: Is Brad Ausmus Evolving? Or, Evidence that Brad Ausmus Definitely Reads ALDLAND

The Sports Illustrated cover curse has relocated to page 34

rachel nichols si

If it feels like the force of the Sports Illustrated cover curse has waned, that’s only because the jinx has relocated to page thirty four. There, in this week’s issue, appeared SI media critic Richard Deitsch’s article, “The Case for…Rachel Nichols,” in which Deitsch praised Nichols’ recent “interrogat[ions]” of Roger Goodell and Floyd Mayweather Jr. “on her eponymous CNN show, Unguarded with Rachel Nichols. As a result,” Deitsch proclaimed in a laudatory proclamation highlighted in the featured pull quotation, “Nichols is at the moment the country’s most impactful and prominent female sports journalist.”

That may have been true “at the moment” Deitsch wrote it, but by the time many SI readers saw it, Nichols’ show had been cancelled. That’s pretty devastating all the way around, and if you’re a fan of either Mississippi State or Ole Miss football, both of which share this week’s SI cover, you may be in for a long day today.

Ray Rice’s suspension in context

In news today that was mostly (but not totally) condemned as tone-deaf and inappropriate, the NFL suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games, but no preseason games, practices, or training camp activities, and docked his pay for a third game, for beating his then-fiancee, Janay, until she was unconscious and dragging her out of an elevator at an Atlantic City casino this February. That the NFL has a serious domestic abuse problem became frighteningly clear at Rice’s post-beating press conference (which I unfortunately had to highlight here). Today’s mild sanction did nothing to change that nauseating narrative.

Deadspin put together a list of “other notable NFL suspensions,” which offers some context for Rice’s two-game sanction. If you want to read the list, with all of the details and circumstances, it’s available here. I’ve attempted to distill the list to the basics below.    Continue reading

Brainstorm: The Washington Football Team’s new mascot

It finally is time for ALDLAND to weigh in on the NFL controversy that has reemerged in force this season: What To Do Or Not Do About The Washington Redskins From A Mascot Perspective.

If you haven’t been following this story this year, don’t worry: no one has said anything insightful about, and no one has changed positions on whether the Redskins should change their name. Washington owner Dan Snyder is not going to change his mind, and he isn’t going to change the name unless NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell forces him to do so, and Goodell has been maybe waffling on the issue.

I don’t have anything to add to the debate, but now feels like a good time to move past the preliminary phase of the conversation and start proposing some alternative mascots. And by “now,” I mean the day after the team’s current running backtight end, Fred Davis, said Snyder should rename the team the Fredskins. Not bad. Inspired, this came to me in a flash this morning:

washingtonmonumentI think the Washington Monuments really would be a great new name for the team. It’s location-specific, addresses Snyer’s concern for honoring history, and is only indirectly linked to Anglo-American racial hegemony.

If you’re still thinking about the Fredskins, here‘s an artist’s rendering of a possible logo along that line. If you have another idea, post it in the comments below.

Fantasy Football vs. Reality, by Nate Jackson

An excerpt from retired NFL player Nate Jackson’s book, Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile, appeared in the September 16, 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated. The following is an excerpt of that excerpt:

Fantasy Football: A player’s statistics are all that matter.

Reality Football: No one knows anyone’s stats, not even their own.

Fantasy Football: NFL players are millionaires.

Reality Football: Many aren’t and never will be.

Fantasy Football: The NFL is all about Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers. Everyone else is a scrub.

Reality Football: Everyone in the NFL is great at football. It’s not uncommon for a future Hall of Famer to get smoked in practice by a rookie free agent who won’t make the team.

Fantasy Football: It’s a quarterback’s league. Without a “franchise quarterback,” you have no chance. …

Reality Football: The action of the quarterback is determined by the 21 moving bodies around him and the coaches on the sideline. The quarterback is one man with one job. Either he does it well or he does not. After the game he stands naked in line for the shower like everyone else.

Fantasy Football: Roger Goodell is making the game safer. He is removing dangerous head shots from the game through fines and penalties, and has settled on a large fund to help retired players, contributed money to researching head trauma and established the Heads-Up tackling initiative, which teaches kids not to hit with their helmets.

Reality Football: You can’t hit without your head. And no matter how many times you say the word “safe,” football is not safe. It never has been and never will be. That’s the whole point.

Can Jaguars Swim?

british jaguars

The NFL has not disguised its efforts to develop its brand abroad, and it appears to be moving toward establishing a team in another country. With expansion, which probably would reduce current owners’ revenues, unlikely, the only ready option is to relocate an existing team across the boarder.

The obvious choice is Canada. The Buffalo Bills already have some sort of timeshare arrangement with Toronto, but so long as Roger Goodell remains NFL commissioner, that move will not happen. (Goodell:Bills::Selig:Brewers, sort of.) Mexico doesn’t quite seem to be happening for the NFL either.

Instead, the league has set its eyes on Europe, and London in particular. Even though it abandoned NFL Europe, the league is pressing its product there more than ever, and it’s doing so in a targeted way. The team to go? The Jacksonville Jaguars.

I watched last night’s crime against football on Sky Sports, a British broadcasting operation. During breaks, they were airing commercials for some UK version of fantasy football that featured three Jags cheerleaders and chances to win gear from “your favorite team,” spoken over the image of a Maurice Jones-Drew jersey. (You can view the commercial here.) Jacksonville is playing Atlanta in the NFL’s now-annual game in London, but the commercial doesn’t include any Falcons imagery. It’s all about establishing a long-term connection between European fans and the Jaguars.

The newish Jags owner is on board with that long-term connection– Shad Khan, a native of Pakistan who moved to America at age sixteen and became a billionaire through the automotive-parts industry, called the Jaguars “the home team for London.” Khan also bought a London-based soccer team, Fulham Football this summer, and in Khan’s eyes, that’s no coincidence: “Obviously, there would be some practices, some synergies we’d like to take advantage of [between the Jaguars and Fulham],” he said. Khan also pointed out that the Jaguars will be playing one home game in London at least for the next four seasons.

U.S.-based fans may just now be hearing about the prospect that a team, possibly the Jaguars, could be making a more permanent connection to London, but from the looks of things like the commercial I saw last night and Kahn’s actions, the NFL may have already made a decision.

Like football, like bourbon: The real reason for the NFL’s popularity

pappy van sandersEven if it doesn’t pack as much action as baseball, or even tennis, there’s no denying that football is America’s de facto national pastime. Many point to the game’s amenability to television as the main reason for its ascension to this position, while some look to the work of labor leaders like Gene Upshaw, who led the charge for free agency, ultimately introducing a new era of NFL riches.

Those two factors undoubtedly contributed to the NFL’s rise in popularity, but I don’t think they explain why the NFL is as extremely popular as it is today, when every sport receives tailored television treatment, and the power balance between players and ownership across all major sports is far more even than it probably ever has been. If you step back far enough, football’s not much different than any of the other major sports. How does this otherwise undifferentiated product stay on top?

More than ever before, we’re living in an attention economy. Availability no longer determines value, because, as a result of the proliferation of communication technology, everything is equally available. When sports (and other broadcasted entertainment) are equally available and are available in such a volume that they cannot all be consumed, people must make decisions about which sports components they will follow and which ones the will not. Economics is about the allocation of limited resources, and in the market for sports entertainment, the only limited resource is our attention.

Why does the NFL grab more of the attention of more people than any other sport? Scarcity. Between the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL, no professional sports league plays fewer games than the NFL. Moreover, those games are scheduled such that, with minimal deviation, they all are played on the same day. Intentional scarcity makes NFL games both manageably consumable in the attention economy and appointment viewing. Scarcity flips the cost script: having a small number of games and coordinating them on a once-weekly basis means the cost of paying attention to them is low, and because missing one Sunday’s slate of games means missing a significant proportion of the season, not to mention being out of the conversational loop for a full week, the cost of not paying attention is high.

Intentional scarcity might seem like a counterintuitive strategy for boosting a product’s popularity, and the supplier’s revenues, but in a flooded market of generally undifferentiated products, it can be a very successful strategy for generating consumer demand.

Whether the NFL is consciously employing an intentional scarcity strategy is an open question– Roger Goodell’s ongoing push for an expanded season of eighteen games would seem to be contrary to that approach– but there is at least one market in which some manufacturers are openly pursuing an intentional scarcity strategy: the market for bourbon.

The bourbon market has all the essential elements of the sports entertainment market that make it susceptible to the successful pursuit of the intentional scarcity strategy: generally speaking, it is contained of undifferentiated products– competing in the bourbon market is similar to competing in NASCAR– that are present in such great volume that it is practically impossible to consume all of them, at least on a regular basis. The most famous exemplar of the scarcity approach is the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, but it certainly is not the only one.

Intentional scarcity can be a viable strategy for competing in a flooded market of generally undifferentiated products. Regardless of whether the NFL is intentionally engaging in this strategy, the approach is an important contributor to the league’s station atop the sporting world.

NFL Quick Hits 2013: Head Injuries

There is plenty of evidence showing that the NFL is not interested in addressing football’s head-injury problem to any meaningful extent. The audible volume of the NFL’s actions is beginning to drown out that of its words. The league has to keep uttering those words, though, for both P.R. and legal reasons. Not surprisingly, the NFL and its commissioner, Roger Goodell, are seizing upon the concept of a safer helmet as the panacea for this pesky cranial conundrum. The notion that a stronger helmet will reduce concussions is both intuitively obvious and a complete non-starter. Why? As biomedical engineering expert Richard M. Greenwald explained, “It’s the egg-yolk-inside-the-shell analogy. Making the shell stronger will still scramble the yolk.” A safer helmet, into which the NFL is investing millions of dollars, “will do nothing to protect the brain from rotational acceleration, the unstoppable force of physics inherent in every football tackle. In fact, the helmet will do as much to protect against rotational forces as leatherhead helmets, according to research by the Cleveland Clinic.” Those not surprised by the findings of that research, which was released in 2011, included the NFL and helmet manufacturer Riddell. Those two entities had known since at least 2000 that “no football helmet, no matter how revolutionary, could prevent concussions.” Obviously, both entities have ignored those findings. None of this is to tell you that you should not watch football this season; for now, anyway, you can look elsewhere for moral hand-wringing of that variety. Instead, simply remember that football is a violent activity, and don’t let Roger Goodell tell you otherwise.

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Previously
Fantasy Football Podcast
Adrian Peterson
Ziggy Ansah