I love football. No, really, I love football.
I’ve done my own college football season preview every year since I was in the 10th grade (1988). I’ve been playing fantasy football for a quarter-century. I’ve been a subscriber to the NFL Sunday Ticket since 2000. Our family’s house rules are that Dad (me) builds his weekend schedule around everyone else, as much as possible, for the first nine months of the year. And in return, the family does the same for me once football season kicks off in September.
Yet like many non-communist Americans, I find that the NFL is testing my patience.
Oh, sure, I’ve had it up to here with the silly protest culture the league is cultivating. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, these badass-looking men bowing the knee during the anthem are still just millennial snowflakes at heart, believing that “being heard” is somehow an end unto itself, as they emote for fawning social justice warriors masquerading as anchors on ESPN.
But the league has other problems as well.
Its utopianism has created a sport that each week has a new definition of what a catch is, driven by its progressive desire for the perfect outcome. Its egalitarianism has even ruined instant replay. As a “law and order” guy, I’m inclined to support getting it right when we can. But there’s attempting to get it right, and then there’s stalling the game repeatedly to reverse-engineer your utopian ideals.
Then there’s the league’s decades-long crackdown on player individuality (unless they’re auditioning for a spot on Al Jazeera America, of course), which earned it the nickname “The No Fun League.”
Frankly, other than the Republican Party, I’ve never seen a successful enterprise work harder to offend its primary customer base. And its declining television ratings prove that the NFL’s tireless efforts to alienate us are working.
Therefore, as someone who thinks the only thing better than football is more football, who is simultaneously having his patience tested severely by the NFL’s SJW prima donna act, I’ve got 10 suggestions for how Vince McMahon and his second attempt at the XFL can make pro football great again.
1. Eliminate instant replay.
For all the reasons I previously stated, plus one more. Doing so will create more drama and controversy. Yes, that may mean imperfect outcomes, but the public has become so sick of the NFL’s over-the-top attempts to get it right that the market is ripe for some good old-fashioned hate over the refs getting it wrong. And if anyone knows how controversial storylines can pay off at the box office, it’s Vince McMahon.
2. Have a more violent game on the field and a zero-tolerance policy for violence off the field.
Aside from obvious attempts by one player to injure another, let them play. The kingdom of football is a violent game, and violent men lay hold of it. Not to mention, did you see all the high-profile injuries in the NFL this year? So it’s not like that league’s attempt to anesthetize the game is having the desired effect anyway. On the other hand, have a zero-tolerance policy for players who behave violently off the field. Fans are more furious about that as it is.
3. Place teams in major markets that don’t have NFL franchises but love football, like Birmingham, Alabama.
Why did I pick Birmingham? Well, aside from the fact it’s a bigger television market than Jacksonville, New Orleans, and Buffalo, where the NFL currently has teams, it’s also the number-one market for college football ratings each year. Also high on that list are Oklahoma City and Columbus, Ohio, which don’t have NFL franchises, either. Focus on brand loyalty first, and then broaden your market access from there once you’ve created enough demand. Besides, there’s still a way to get eyeballs from the biggest and most expensive markets, like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago — which I’ll get to next.
4. Incorporate daily fantasy football into your game-day experience.
There are two reasons the NFL is idiot-proof, regardless of how much they turn it into a humanities class at Berkeley. One is gambling, which the XFL will get access to if the product is good enough. The second is fantasy football. In 2013, Forbes estimated that fantasy football was a whopping 70-billion dollar industry — and that was before daily fantasy football really began to take off.
If I were McMahon, I would create my own exclusive daily fantasy mechanism for XFL game days. But it shouldn’t require a customer buy-in, to get around state laws that consider it gambling. It would operate more like a game show instead. The XFL could still monetize it two ways: by having sponsor(s) for the contest who also put up the prizes and winnings and by capturing all the unique data of those who play. In today’s digital world, data is dollars, and McMahon would be able to harvest a data gold mine this way. Oh, and much of that data will come from places like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc. Now you’re getting the benefits of those markets with minimal up-front business costs.
5. Use storylines to capture imaginations, as McMahon did with pro wrestling.
Not with scripted outcomes, mind you, but by allowing the individual personas of the players and coaches to shine through. Imagine the brash and loathsome Johnny Manziel facing off against fellow former Heisman Trophy winner and beloved choir boy Tim Tebow in a battle of good against evil in the heart of the Bible Belt?
6. Have schematic diversity in your coaching staffs.
Have a triple option coach, a run-’n’-shoot coach, a conventional pro-style offense coach, a college-type spread offense coach, and so on and so forth. The NFL is considered a copycat league. Have the XFL be a distinct one instead.
7. Put the fans on the field with modern innovation.
Why not helmet cams on a player in each position group, with a live feed hosted by an online media partner for fans who want to be right in the middle of the action? Let fans hear what’s being said during timeouts and huddles in real time. Let fans hear the smack talk between the players, too, which will only add to the development of individual personas that create drama and controversy.
8. Use media partners not currently working with the NFL, including prominent broadcasters not doing the NFL on television.
You don’t want platforms worried about jeopardizing their status with the NFL, and fans will always find out where to watch their favorites. After all, fans will find the Tru Network if it’s necessary to watch the popular NCAA tournament. And let’s hear great voices, like Brent Musberger, that aren’t currently heard on NFL Sundays to add to the environment.
9. Start your season the weekend after the Final Four.
Starting the season right after the Super Bowl in early February, or when the NFL regular season concludes around New Year’s, is too soon. In March, the Madness consumes the sports consciousness. But after that, football fans become desperate, which is why networks are even now showing more college football spring games (basically intra-squad scrimmages) than ever before. The mid-spring NFL draft is annually one of ESPN’s biggest television draws. Fill the void between the Final Four and when training camps open for college and the NFL.
10. Have each franchise operate its roster like a “keeper league” in fantasy football.
Again, the more drama, the better. So after each season, each team is allowed to set aside no more than 10 of its players for the following season. The rest are placed back in a pool that forces teams to have to mix and match annually, like the average fantasy football owner has to. Plus, changing personalities refreshes the story lines. That’s why McMahon has had his best wrestling talents be seen as heroes and heels at different points in their careers.