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Slumping ratings and controversy around concussions and national anthem protests aren't the only problems facing the NFL now. The NFL is going to have some competition in the form of at least two new professional football leagues!

The XFL wants to be no joke

A few days ago, the new XFL released a list of the cities that will host its inaugural teams, and I have to say, I'm a bit confused by the decisions. The cities that made the final cut are:

  • Dallas, Texas: Globe Life Park in Arlington
  • Houston, Texas: TDECU Stadium
  • Los Angeles, California: StubHub Center in Carson
  • New York, New York: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford
  • Seattle, Washington: CenturyLink Field
  • St. Louis, Missouri: The Dome at America's Center
  • Tampa Bay, Florida: Raymond James Stadium
  • Washington, D.C.: Audi Field
XFL teams will be sharing cities (and in some cases, stadiums) with NFL teams.

I understand that the XFL would want its teams to be in large markets, but I'm surprised that every single one (except for St. Louis) is a city that already has an NFL team. So the XFL's teams will be competing with a firmly-established NFL team for fans and ticket sales in all but one of the XFL's inaugural cities. In fact, three of these teams will have to share a stadium with an NFL team. Metlife will be split between the New York XFL team, and the Jets and Giants of the NFL. CenturyLink Field will be shared with the Seahawks, and Raymond James will be shared with the Buccaneers. I was expecting the XFL to go after the largest markets that didn't already have NFL teams. Cities like St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland were shoe-in destinations, in my mind, since they recently lost NFL teams, and so have empty, NFL-caliber (sort of) stadiums waiting for a new tenant.

Other than that, I was expecting to see the XFL go to places like Milwuake, Oklahoma City, Portland, Albuquerque, Boise, Honolulu, and other midsize markets. Las Vegas would also be a prime target, if not for the Raiders moving here in a year or two. The XFL also could have tried to beat the NFL to some foreign markets, such as Toronto, Vancuever (Canada), Mexico City, or London.

And if it were absolutely necessary to go into cities that already have NFL teams, I would have expected them go after cities that have historically bad or under-performing teams in the hopes of stealing away some disenfranchised fans. Tampa Bay certainly fits this bill. I was also thinking of places like Cleveland, Detroit, Pheonix, and Jacksonville.

Bully politics

I'll admit that I was actually excited by Vince McMahon's announcement of an XFL revival. McMahon's statements so far have indicated that he is taking the league much more seriously this time around, and that it won't be as much of a gimmicky joke. According to early reports, McMahon wants the league to be faster. He wants to reduce the game time from three-or-more hours to about two hours. How he plans to accomplish this is still not entirely known, but my guess would be that he could achieve it through a combination of shortening quarter lengths (to 10 or 12 minutes), reducing the play clock from 40 seconds (in the NFL) to 25 or 30 seconds (closer to NCAA rules), eliminating some clock stoppages (by not stopping the clock for incomplete passes, for instance), or by slowing down the game by making the rules favor running the ball rather than throwing the ball. This last one seems unlikely, as I'm sure McMahon wants the game to be more exciting, and most fans are not like me, and do not enjoy seeing long, methodical, ground-and-pound drives.

The new XFL will be devoid of some of the original's excess and theatrics.

McMahon will own and finance the league this time around, rather than the World Wrestling Federation (now the WWE). This new XFL is expected to eliminate a lot of the silly, pro-wrestling-inspired theatrics that plagued the original XFL and turned that league into a joke. Players with criminal records will not be allowed to play, and they won't be able to create silly names for the backs of their jerseys (no "He Hate Me" as a player name).

McMahon also wants to eliminate player expression in general, as he's banning player political statements and protests of all kinds and mandating that players stand for the national anthem. This is, of course, hypocritical, since singing the national anthem before a game is, in itself, a political statement. This is especially true of the XFL and NFL, which are both private corporations trying to pass their games off as "civic events", even though they absolutely aren't. These teams are not owned by the community, as evidenced by the sudden move of the Rams from St. Louis, the Chargers from San Diego, and the Raiders from Oakland. Prohibiting political speech is, in itself a political action, especially when you are putting this prohibition into place specifically as a response to minority players protesting social injustice. Further, these players, as community role models, absolutely should have the ability to make political statements as long as they aren't interfering with the play of the game. This sounds less like McMahon wants to maintain locker room cohesion, and more like he simply wants to shut out opposing political views like a bully.

The XFL will explicitly prohibit political expression from players.

I'm all in favor of having a legitimate professional football league to compete with the NFL! However, I fear that McMahon may be setting the league up for failure by the choices of cities for the inaugural teams. These teams will be competing with firmly-entrenched NFL teams for fans' time and money. NFL tickets are expensive, and if people have to chose between season tickets to their hometown NFL team, and a new XFL team that might fold in two or three years, I would bet most people would chose the NFL.

The "Freedom Football League" wants to be progressive football

Freedom Football League

It looks like the XFL might also have some extra competition from another start-up football league. A group of about 50 former NFL players (including Ricky Williams, Terrell Owens, Simeon Rice, Jeff Garcia, and others) is founding a new football league called the "Freedom Football League". This league is apparently taking an opposite approach to McMahon's league, as it explicitly wants to give political voice to its players. The teams will apparently also be jointly owned by the players (and maybe also the communities?), in an effort to make the league less economically exploitative. Season ticket holders will all apparently be "part-owners" of the teams, following a model similar to the Green Bay Packers (a model that the NFL explicitly banned back in the 80's).

Further, the founders are stressing that this league will grant players "permanent and reliable holistic health and wellness support on and off the field". Hopefully, this simply means that the players will receive comprehensive physical, mental, and emotional care, rather than meaning that the league will promote homeopathic and other nonsense medical practices. If the former, then this is certainly a noble goal, as the NFL has been really bad about providing healthcare to its players, especially when it comes to head and brain injuries.

FFL season ticket-holders will be "part owners" of the team, similar to the NFL's Packers.

The FFL also has a list of premiere cities, and their list falls more in line with what I had expected from the XFL. They are more mid-size markets, and are leveraging cities that recently lost NFL teams. The FFL's founding teams will be:

  • San Diego Warriors
  • Oklahoma City Power
  • Portland Progress
  • Texas Revolution (not sure where in Texas they will play?)
  • Ohio Players (not sure where in Ohio they will play?)
  • Florida Strong (not sure where in Florida they will play?)
  • Birmingham Kings
  • St. Louis Independence
  • Connecticut Undergound (again, where in Connecticut?)
  • Oakland Panthers

Goofy team names aside, I think the city list for the FFL is much better than the city list for the XFL. These are places that probably have a stronger demand for a football team. Further, I feel that these team will be more likely to develop loyal, dedicated fans, since they won't have an NFL team to jump bandwagons.

I'm not sure of the specific location of some of the teams, since the announcement only says which states they'll be in. Will the Texas team be in Dallas or Houston? Maybe it will be in Austin, since this league looks like it's trying to cater more to liberal and progressive audiences (even going so far as to give the name "Progress" to the team from Portland). Will the Ohio team be in Cleveland, or Cincinnati? Or will it go for some place like Columbus or Canton? How about the Florida team? Are we talking Miami, Tampa, or Jacksonville? Or something more like Orlando or Tallahassee?

Further, the FFL is planning on scheduling its games during the spring and summer, which means (even if they were in the same cities as NFL teams), they wouldn't be competing directly with NFL games (or college games). It also means that some players from the NFL and/or XFL could maybe even split time with a team on the FFL in order to further develop themselves (assuming that it isn't too demanding on their bodies). The idea seems similar to the World League / NFL Europe experiment that went on during the 1990's and 2000's.

NFL Europe acted as a sort of "practice league" for NFL players during the springs and early summer.

I also feel that the focus on player health care, and giving players a political platform to express themselves will mean that the FFL will be more likely to attract players. I know that if I were a professional football player, and I had a choice between these two leagues, I'd want to chose the one that would let me feel more free, and which wouldn't feel stifling and restrictive. According to founder statements, they want this new league to focus more on community and the development of young players. I wonder if either one of them will be open to allowing women to play?

My money's on the FFL

If anything is going to kill this league, it will be the freedom of expression of the players. If this league attracts troublemakers and divas (like Ricky Williams and Terrell Owens had a reputation for), then locker room distractions could destroy team unity and lead to very ugly football that nobody will want to watch.

That being said, I feel like the FFL is making much better decisions in terms of where to play, when to play, and how to treat its players and fans. The XFL feels like it is setting itself up for failure by trying to compete directly with the NFL, by playing in NFL cities (and stadium). If I had to put money on which of these two leagues is going to end up being more successful, my money will be on the FFL. And that's not even taking into account the fact that I prefer the FFL's political, social, and economic philosophies.

These announcements make me regret the Raiders' move to Las Vegas even more. I'd much rather have seen Las Vegas become home to a team from one (or both) of these new leagues. I'd especially prefer having a fan and community-owned FFL team, rather than have the Raiders swindling Vegas into letting them live here on the cheap and giving corporate welfare to a billionaire.

I would much rather see a community-owned FFL team in Las Vegas,
rather than being swindled into handing out corporate welfare to a billionaire.

The possibility of new football video games?

When Vince McMahon announced the new XFL, he also teased video game players by asking us over Twitter if we'd be interested in an XFL-licensed video game. If so, what features would we want? This is something that I might have to write a more extensive blog about in the future (similar to what I wrote about what I'd like to see if NCAA Football video games returned).

New football leagues opens the potential
for new licensed football video games.

In any case, having two new football leagues means that we could potentially see licensed professional football video games that could potentially compete with (and hopefully improve) Madden. The XFL and FFL could license their league out to a new developer, or they could grant licenses to existing companies like Canuck Play or Axis. Maybe 2K could even develop an XFL and/or FFL-licensed game? XFL 2k20, anyone...?

With these new leagues and new game developers in play, we could see a full suite of football video games on the market in a few years. In addition to Madden, we could have Axis Football, Maximum Football, IMV's college football game, hopefully a 2k-developed game, an XFL-license game, and an FFL-licensed game. The 2020's could turn into a very good decade for video game football...

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