Another NFL season brings with it another attempt to kick off a national spring football league in the months that follow. But a spring football league slated to launch next year will debut with significant media firepower behind it.
The XFL, the nascent football league controlled by professional-wrestling impresario Vince McMahon, will debut in February of next year with a good chunk of games that are slated to air on two of TV’s most watched networks, Fox and ABC. In all, 25 games will air on national broadcast, the XFL said Tuesday, with others slated to air on ESPN and ESPN2, which, like ABC, are controlled by Walt Disney Co. The eight-team league will play a ten-week season.
Fox has already committed an on-air team consisting of Curt Menefee, a veteran of the booth. and Joel Klatt, its lead college football analyst. ABC’s team will be named at a later date.
The XFL hopes to gain ground where predecessors have not. Earlier this year, the Alliance of American Football, led by entrepreneur Charlie Ebersol, launched a season during a Saturday broadcast on CBS, only to find keeping operations going were too much to bear. The league folded before its season could be completed.
For years, dreamers and big thinkers have tried to emulate the success of the NFL with a rival spring football league. Longtime pigskin fans will no doubt recall the USFL, the United Football League, and even a previous incarnation of the XFL – a joint venture of NBC and WWE. But many of these efforts floundered.
Successful spring football might lend the networks an economic cushion. Both Disney and Fox – the rights holders to “Monday Night Football” and “Thursday Night Football,” respectively, have deep ties to the NFL. Yet current rights to broadcast NFL games start to lapse in 2021, when ESPN’s contract comes up for renewal. NFL broadcasts bring Walt Disney, CBS, NBC and Fox their biggest audiences of the season.
Football games represent “one of the few appointment viewing opportunities left for the networks,” Oliver Luck, CEO of the XFL, told Variety in February. “The demand has been healthy and that gives me confidence that there will be an audience – not just for us, but for theirs.”