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The New XFL Should Heed Lessons From Past Failures

21 Apr 2001:  The Los Angeles Xtreme and the San Francisco Demons during the XFL Championship game at the Los Angeles Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.  DIGITAL IMAGE.  Mandatory Credit: Scott Halleran/Allsport
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

For the second year in a row, an upstart league will kick off shortly after the close of the NFL season. This time, it will be Vince McMahon's revived XFL, whose first season begins Feb. 8.

The new league will hope to avoid the fate of not only its predecessor, which folded after only one season in 2001, but also the Alliance of American Football, which collapsed midway through its first season in a pile of debt.

Both leagues secured wide television exposure and introduced novel technological advances to the staid old game of football. Both leagues had reasonable levels of sub-NFL talent in its ranks, and the quality of play was decent. Both leagues had rule sets that differed from the NFL's in wacky and exciting ways.

Both flopped.

In the case of both the original XFL and the AAF, that was mainly because the organizations threw money at a "problem" that did not exist: both were marketed at the supposed "die-hard fan" that needed more football even when football season was over. To quote SB Nation, "if you like football, then you must hate the NBA, the NHL, the start of baseball, March Madness, the Winter Olympics if they're on...they're just not football!"

The AAF's case is especially galling in the era of 24/7 NFL, college, and even high school football coverage online, as well as the NFL Network.

The new XFL can remedy that by repositioning itself to fill a role that doesn't exist - a feeder league for NFL teams, sort of like an unofficial version of the NBA G League. While that sounds like a difficult proposition, given that the XFL plays in the spring and the NFL does not, it has actually been tried before to some extent.

Ten years before the original XFL, the World League of American Football played two spring seasons across North America and Europe, and eventually evolved into NFL Europe, a sort of minor league where NFL backups were sent for "seasoning". While NFL Europe folded after the 2007 season, the XFL could easily serve as its replacement if they play their cards right.