The XFL made its official debut on Saturday afternoon, featuring the DC Defenders go up against the Seattle Dragons. It was fun, because football is fun. Generally speaking, the football was what we'd expect: entertaining but sloppy. But the best part about it all, and what the XFL should be selling going forward, is the viewing experience.
The XFL mic'd up just about everyone they could. Both head coaches and coordinators had live mics throughout the game, leading to some cool moments like seeing Seattle HC Jim Zorn decide what play to call on a crucial fourth-and-one late in the game. They captured Zorn's live reaction after Seattle's punt was blocked, which was as entertaining as it sounds:
They broadcasted the Defenders' OC and his live reaction to a successful trick play for a touchdown featuring QB Cardale Jones:
Even the referees were mic'd up as they made important decisions. The NFL has people mic'd up, but only for their post-game mic'd up videos they mine for fun soundbites, not real-time analysis of the decision-making.
The broadcast team was also given more complete access to the coaches and players in ways we haven't seen before. Dianna Russini spent the game sprinting up and down the sideline interviewing players as they came off the field after big plays. She was on hand for the first example of why this can be a dangerous idea for networks when a Seattle lineman dropped an F-bomb in the middle of the interview. She got the live reaction of DC's kicker right after he missed a field goal, and the unfiltered energy of Rahim Moore after a pick-six.
The crew was also given access to the teams' locker rooms during halftime, which led to this interesting segment.
In addition, they gave the Dragons' quarterback's live reaction as he was laying on the field after an ankle injury. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but the XFL clearly isn't shy about using everything they can capture.
This access will be the biggest draw to the XFL outside of the fact that they can provide football when it isn't being played anywhere else. The rule changes, like the point-after tiers and new kickoffs, are interesting, but also a novelty that people will eventually grow uninterested in. Given the rosters are made up of college and NFL castoffs, the gap in quality of play will never be closed. That's just the nature of trying to be the NFL's little brother in today's eternally football-starved market.
But the NFL, even if this is a gigantic success, would never adopt these non-traditional broadcast rules. The XFL gives us unfettered access to the emotions of players and coaches as it happens in real time. It makes the viewing experience unique and provides something we as the audience legitimately have not seen before.
We'll see how much this access will really grant to viewers in the coming weeks, but so far, it's the best part of the XFL.