What Mistakes the XFL Could Learn From With The Failure of the AAF

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With the XFL showcase camps in full effect around the cities that are set to host teams, many former NFL, AAF, and College Football players are looking for, what could be, their last opportunity to make it to the big time. Players like Zac Mettenburger, Darron Thomas, and Bishop Sankey could use this as a catapult to get one last run in the NFL, while others like Scooby Wright and Kenny Hillard are looking to prove they have enough value to make an NFL roster while their prime is still to come. The AAF looked to have everything figured out until some poor decision making caused their inaugural and, potentially, final season to come crashing down just as quickly as it launched. Let’s take a look at some of the issues the AAF faced during the season, and what inevitably caused its demise.

Finances

I think by this point in time, everyone is fully aware that the main culprit in the AAF destruction was money. This trend, though, really began after the first couple of weeks of the season, when many employees were not receiving their pay checks on time or at all. The ultimate solution was that the ad revenue as well as some of the primary investors pushing out some more cash could help the league through the end of the season was not to be. The AAF took a different route in getting the cash they needed, but it ended up coming at a steep price that we will discuss later on in this article.

NFLPA Agreements

From what has been reported, the NFLPA and the AAF had not agreed on a decision to let the players signed to NFL practice squads and teams continue to play out the season then report to team activities. Now the next collective bargaining agreement comes up in 2020 where these issues can be brought to the table, but the AAF, fearful of the XFL involvement, decided to have their first season begin one year before this meeting could occur. With that said, the final decision from the players association was to call all the players back to their teams and essentially ravage all of the rosters of any talent for the end of the season and the playoff run. We will get to the cause of this later.

Fear of the XFL

With the XFL announcing that their league would begin in the spring of 2020, the AAF felt a touch of desperation to get their league established before the reintroduction of the XFL. This decision ended up being more troubling than establishing. With the lack of up front financing and lack of agreement with players currently signed to NFL teams, the AAF did not have much going for it in its maiden voyage.

Investment Dysfunction

The final straw that concluded the turbulent season of the AAF came from an angel investor by the name of Tom Dudon. He had initially stated he planned to invest a total of 250 million dollars so the league could finish its regular season as well as decide a champion with a postseason. What this turned into was nothing more than a money grab for proprietary technology in the sports gambling industry. His initial front of 50 million helped the league have one more week of games, but it seemed to come at a very steep price. Dudon thought that he could pressure the NFLPA into letting the players finish out their commitment to the AAF by giving them a deadline to make their decision by. Clearly the NFLPA did not appreciate the gesture and subsequently required all players on NFL payrolls to report back to their teams thus eliminating over half of the league in one day. The league had to cease operation at this point, but it did not seem to concern Dudon in the slightest. It seemed that his ulterior motive was to gain the in-game sports betting technology being developed by the AAF. From the outside looking in, Dudon never wanted to help AAF, he wanted to essentially purchase the technology and use that for his own benefit while leaving many players, coaches, and staff unemployed.

With everything mentioned above, here are some of the things Vince McMahon needs to do in order to have a successful relaunch of the XFL.

Finances in Order

McMahon has taken a major lesson from the AAF. 250 million per season is not going to be enough to successfully run a sports league. Since his initial press conference, McMahon has sold a reported 272 million dollars worth of WWE stock to go along with the 100 million dollars he sold prior to the announcement. This cash flow should be a sufficient amount to run the league for the first season of play without having to rely on sponsorship agreements, ticket sales, and other revenue streams to keep the company afloat.

NFLPA Agreements

As explained earlier, the most foolish move the AAF (Dudon) did was give the NFLPA an ultimatum.  Giving Dudon controlling power in order for him to be able to make such a demand could be an entire article in itself, but this power play could be the insight the XFL was looking for. With the collective bargaining agreement due to end in 2020, the XFL has the perfect opportunity to influence their ability to let the players finish out a spring season without having to sacrifice their position on an NFL payroll.  McMahon may also be able to work out a G-League scenario, as in the NBA, in order to give the players on practice squads the ability to have meaningful game reps.

Other Business Ventures

As most people know, Vince McMahon is the chairman of the board for World Wrestling Entertainment.  He has seen his company rise from the brink of extinction, due to WCW, to becoming the most powerful brand of sports entertainment in the world.  Lately though, falling viewership ratings and an impending deal with FOX have sent the WWE into desperation mode in order to improve ratings.  This extra stress could begin to spiral into this relaunch and cause more issues behind the scenes than what was originally considered.  McMahon claims he will run both businesses, which could lead to multiple conflicts if either business starts to falter.  McMahon might want to consider dialing back on the WWE front in order to maintain focus on making the XFL successful in its second voyage.

Learning From Prior Mistakes

The XFL has made some serious strides since its first season.  McMahon has seemed to understand the fact that the same tactics that brought WWE into prosperity will not work in the professional football world.  My only concern is that if ratings start to fall, McMahon will fall into the same trap that he has fallen into with WWE.  Attempting to deceive a broader audience than the niche fans of the WWE will go down the same way the XFL did the first time.  If you are unsure what I am talking about with the deception from the WWE, find any wrestling blog from the last month and you will easily find evidence of it.  The XFL also cannot afford to go to the same tricks as using the cheerleaders for sex appeal.  The “Attitude Era” of WWE was incredibly successful and the WWE is a multi-billion dollar industry, but the same approach will not work in a traditional sports league.

Final Remarks

The XFL has a lot going for it at this particular time.  It will not have the same competition, financial issues, or marketing struggles the AAF endured.  In saying that, the XFL has the same opportunity to take, what seems to be a great idea for everyone involved, this league,  and run it into the ground after one season.  McMahon, in my opinion, could really use a couple of individuals with experience in a sports front office to help him with the day-to-day operations.  He could also use some help on his somewhat flailing WWE ratings in order to keep his mainstream of revenue in a positive spot.  There is no telling if the ego of Vince McMahon will become a problem or not, but this league could be the perfect feeder system to the NFL, and also become an outlet for college athletes who are just as fed up with the NCAA rules as most other people are.  The NFLPA negotiations could become one of the most important building blocks between a possible NFL- Alpha Entertainment agreement in the future.  The XFL needs to prove that it can establish itself for longer than one season, but they have taken many steps to not suffer the same fate as fifteen years prior.

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