The Revolution Was Televised: We Remember When The XFL Failed 12 Years Ago


Just over a decade ago as a senior at Babson College, I took an elective called Strategic Management Perspectives of Professional Sports. In a school mostly known for future finance gurus and entrepreneurs, this course was certainly the most popular offering the college had. The fall 2003 edition of the class was a fascinating one because A) seemingly every other conversation in class focused on the New England Patriots thanks to two Super Bowl championships in three seasons, B) Aaron Bleepin’ Boone was about to happen and C) a failed professional football league just became a case study.

Thanks to Robert Klemko’s profile on Denver Broncos linebacker Paris Lenon for MMQB, we were reminded that the XFL existed once upon a time. Lenon, the second-oldest member of the AFC champions after Peyton Manning, is the last player in the NFL who actually played in the fateful league devised by the WWE (mainly Vince McMahon) and a very desperate NBC (mainly Dick Ebersol).

While the words are there for your perusal, it made me look back to the take-home midterm from the class, which came two years after the XFL folded. Awkwardly reading words from yesteryear, here’s what the future Scribe wrote back in October 2003:

Over the years, the NFL has branded itself as not only the premier brand of professional football, but as the litmus test of all sports in presentation. The XFL wanted to challenge the NFL’s supremacy. Its mantra against the NFL was that it strayed away from the smash-mouth football made popular in the 1950s. The criticism of the NFL was that the league became soft; escalating player salaries due to performance clauses, protection of the quarterback, parity rather than sustained dominance by a few teams, lack of celebration and the alienation of Joe Fan in favor of Corporate America. The XFL was going to bring back the spirit the NFL once had, with the inclusion of Joe Fan.

It’s interesting to look back at not only that very paper — an A-, if you must know — but what both the NFL and even the WWE have become in the time since. Ed discussed the promotion’s controversial Pay-Per-View card, the 2014 Royal Rumble, because with the soon-to-be-launched WWE Network, the company is on the precipice of what could be Vince McMahon’s biggest success since winning the Monday Night Wars. And yet, the greatest success the XFL had was compelling the NFL to change some of how it presents itself.


Those multiple camera angles, including the “UmpCam,” which the NFL’s partners used in the 2003 season. In-game interviews with players and coaches. The attempt at an edgier team in the booth (ah, the Dennis Miller era of Monday Night Football). The “backstage pass” to the game that gave us live glimpses of locker rooms. The infusion of boisterous personalities into the pregame shows. Even the ongoing tweaks to the product, as we’ve heard much about all season long.

As crazy as it may sound, it’s almost inconceivable to think of how different the NFL looked and felt in 2001, and that’s in large part to what the XFL attempted to do. The influence of the upstart league isn’t apparent to many because of how much of a colossal failure it was and how the NFL continued to grow in the years since.

Funny how time flies.

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