After rabid anticipation by football fans, the revived XFL kicked off this Saturday, and it...wasn't all that bad. Compared to its 2001 incarnation, at least, the 2020 XFL is off to a rolling start.
That's good news for football fans if the league can continue to deliver on its promise of providing an alternative to the established NFL through innovation rather than controversy. But it has to be even better for the league's guiding hand, Vince MacMahon, who could use some good news after a string of setbacks to his main business enterprise, WWE.
Ask any fan of wrestling - sorry, "sports entertainment" - and they'll tell you that WWE went through a rough 2019 both inside and outside of the ring. Smackdown's debut on FOX Sports did not bring a ratings increase as expected. In fact, ratings for both Raw and Smackdown tumbled year-over-year for much of 2019, as unpopular booking decisions, unpopular storylines, and "same-y" presentation chipped away at an already-declining fanbase.
The nadir arguably came at the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view, which ended in a disqualification after Seth Rollins struck "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt with a foreign object. Fans at the event in Sacramento responded to the finish with raucous boos, and the match "won" Wrestlecrap's "Gooker Award" for the worst event in pro wrestling in 2019.
It doesn't help that WWE has legitimate competition for the first time since the Monday Night Wars, in the form of AEW - All Elite Wrestling, funded by Jacksonville Jaguars co-owner Tony Khan and airing weekly on TNT. While there have been other organizations that have tried to compete with WWE since the fall of World Championship Wrestling, such as Total Nonstop Action and Ring of Honor, neither of those felt like a true challenger.
The rough year has had effects on WWE's bottom line. Over the past year, the company's stock has plunged from $100 per share to $40, and subscribers to the organization's premium service, the WWE Network, dropped by 10% during Q4 of 2019. Earlier this week, two WWE co-presidents, George Barrios and Michelle Wilson, stepped down amid the chaos.
Let's clear up one thing: the XFL is not directly tied to the WWE. The new league is part of a separate company, Alpha Entertainment, which was established to keep McMahon's other sports and entertainment enterprises separate from WWE. However, McMahon is the face of both organizations, and has gone to great lengths to make himself such - for crying out loud, he made himself a world heavyweight champion on two occasions.
If the XFL fails again, it will come at the worst possible time for McMahon.