Last week, a journalist’s tweet and an intriguing statement from the WWE stoked widespread speculation that Vince McMahon was thinking about bringing back the XFL. But what really talks is money, and on Thursday, McMahon appeared to put an eye-opening amount of it toward the return of his ill-fated football league.
According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, McMahon sold 3.34 million shares of WWE, worth approximately $100 million. That money, per a WWE filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, is meant “primarily to fund a separate entity from the Company, Alpha Entertainment LLC, which Mr. McMahon established to explore investment opportunities across the sports and entertainment landscapes, including professional football.”
The WWE employed similar language last week in its statement, adding that McMahon, the CEO of the pro wrestling company, had “nothing further to announce.” The influx of millions of dollars into Alpha, though, along with reports that it has filed for several trademarks associated with the XFL, could be strong indications that McMahon is intent on reviving the league.
The XFL lasted just one season, in 2001. Co-owned by the WWE (then called the WWF) and NBC, its games aired on the network and on independent channels and were played in the spring, in an attempt to satisfy football fans’ yearnings during the NFL’s offseason.
The new league was meant to one-up the staid NFL by adding some of the violence, raunch and personal rivalries (staged or not) of pro wrestling, and it offered innovations, including extensive use of a sky-cam during telecasts, that have lasted well past its demise. That failure was hastened by plummeting ratings, which some blamed on a poor quality of play stemming from inadequate preparation.
Presumably, if he is serious about bringing it back, McMahon has had some time to study why the XFL failed and come up with remedies. He may also be emboldened by some fans’ disenchantment with the NFL, which has attempted to dial back violent play in an effort to limit brain injuries and is struggling to address the issue of player protests during the national anthem.
McMahon certainly sounded interested in giving it a go when he sat with former NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, another key figure in the XFL’s creation, for a conversation about the league captured in an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary that aired earlier this year.
“Do you ever have any thoughts about trying again?” Ebersol asked. “Yes, I do,” McMahon replied.
“I don’t know what it would be,” McMahon continued. “I don’t know if it’s going to be another XFL, or what it may be, or how different I would make it.”
One difference in the possible new XFL is that it wouldn’t have “He Hate Me,” a.k.a. Rod Smart, whose customized jersey, another innovation of the league, caused many to take notice, albeit not always in an admiring way. According to Rovell, the WWE recently filed for the “He Hate Me” trademark, which was abandoned by Smart in 2011, hinting at a plan for another player to bear that message on the field.
Of course, as more than a few noted online, one seemingly obvious personnel move for the XFL would be to sign someone who also would like another chance at making a go of it in pro football: Johnny Manziel.
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