Nothing has been decided yet in regards to what type of coverage Fox and ESPN have in store for the second iteration of the XFL, which will debut next year. While the coverage will not determine the league’s fate, the XFL should differ from traditional leagues in this category. Here are some ideas that would get the XFL off to a fun, innovative, and news-making start.
Clay Travis is the first name that comes to mind. Travis should be the focal point of Fox’s studio coverage as opposed to a former NFL or even a former XFL player. Travis moves the needle and would give them a recognizable voice that drives reaction. He also brings a gambling element that the XFL will badly need. Incorporating gambling into the XFL’s bumper programming is a way to separate from the pack and get those on the fence to consume the product. While gambling isn’t what Travis is known for, he is the face of FS1’s Lock It In and is someone that can offer gambling insight both on the pregame show and during live cut-ins throughout the game. Travis brings value here, and the reps could lead to his place the potential heir apparent on Fox’s pre-pre NFL show if Colin Cowherd eventually graduates to the main show.
While it’s unlikely they would work together, Dan “Big Cat” Katz from Barstool is exactly what the XFL and Fox need here. Fox would have to work out a deal with Barstool, but given the exposure that would come with it, this would appear mutually beneficial. Katz also can talk odds and he is one of the most entertaining voices doing it (See Barstool Advisors). Outside of Dave Portnoy, nobody would instantly bring a passionate, all-in audience with them like Katz would. If nothing else, Fox and the XFL would inherit his fan base and have one of the most entertaining studio shows around. Even if this wasn’t of interest, occasional sideline reporting appearances with some opining from Big Cat should be strongly considered.
As much sense as Big Cat makes, there are obstacles to get there and it’s unclear what his interest level in it would be. That is not the case for Pat McAfee. McAfee is a media free agent and it would be nothing short of astounding if he was not aching to be involved with the XFL’s coverage. McAfee currently works with the WWE, so there is that connection. And he has appeared on both Fox’s and ESPN’s airwaves in the past. The former Barstool radio host could work for either network, front the studio coverage, do sideline reporting, or and perhaps where he has the most value, be in the booth doing color commentary. It’s a solid bet McAfee will be involved somehow with the XFL.
As much as gambling can help the XFL’s growth, it’s fantasy football that would put it on the map and into the discussion. Fantasy football has helped attract casual fans to the NFL for years and would give the XFL additional eyeballs that they will need. In order to fully capitalize on this, the ESPN version must get Matthew Berry involved. Berry is the fantasy expert and has a following that will consume his content in any form at any time. Putting Berry on the bumper programming, or again with the cut-ins, would give the XFL something unique and intriguing while appealing to the fantasy football users who are often undervalued by traditional coverages.
There is much less Fox and ESPN can do in regards to their play-by-play. It would be challenging to go in any other direction than with active play-by-play announcers. Tim Brando told The Big Lead this week he is very interested in calling XFL games. Longtime WWE voice Michael Cole is a fit if the networks elect to give the product more of a wrestling-type feel. It’s the same when it comes to Renee Young as a potential candidate, who is likely to host the upcoming WWE show on FS1.
Again, the XFL’s most important task is to put forth a product that fans want and have to continuously come back and consume. But the coverage they combine with it must stand out. It would be foolish if gambling and fantasy football are not involved. As it would be if Fox and ESPN do not use well-known, exciting personalities to help grow the brand that surely will need help early on.