Nearly two decades after it faded away, the XFL—Vince McMahon’s competitor to the NFL—is coming back. The football league will begin games in 2020 with the official announcement coming later Thursday, according to CBS Sports.
The original XFL was a joint venture between the WWE and NBC with former NBC executive Dick Ebersol heading the operation. It attempted to be an edgier version of the NFL and introduced several features (such as the sky cam) that the NFL has since adopted. Its failure was tied to NBC’s discomfort with what the league was trying to do (and the network’s subsequent decision to stop airing games), technical issues, and failing to think through certain factors that today seem obvious (like over-sexualizing cheerleaders and not adequately training announcers).
Bringing back the franchise is a bold play by McMahon, given how spectacularly the original flamed out—lasting just one season. But the timing could be just right as fans become more frustrated with the NFL.
McMahon, who has sold $100 million in WWE stock to help fund the venture, is reportedly not rushing into things this time. Games won’t start until 2020, giving the league time to practice and build interest. (The original XFL was launched without even a full preseason.)
And, as the success of WWE has proven, McMahon is one of the kings of building interest in sports properties.
The new XFL launches as the NFL has found itself the subject of severe criticisms in the last few years. Many fans have objected to players taking a knee during the National Anthem (while others have praised them for doing so). The league has also seen the impact of sexual misconduct allegations (one of which led to the Carolina Panthers going up for sale). And ratings for televised games are down 9% from a year ago.
While the NFL is certainly vulnerable, it’s hardly staggering. McMahon faces an uphill battle. But if he can secure a strong broadcast partner and sway disgruntled fans to try something new, the league could conceivably have a bigger impact on the sports world this time around.