May 11, 2020
ESPN.com NFL Nation reporter Kevin Seifert stops by to help us perform a preliminary autopsy on the surprisingly sudden death of the XFL – WWE founder Vince McMahon’s second attempt at creating a viable alternative professional football league to that of the mighty NFL.
A confident, but visibly mellower McMahon announced the league’s unlikely rebirth at a video press conference on January 28, 2018 (two months before a similar launch by the rival Alliance of American Football) – with resolute commitments to professionalism, innovation and fan-friendliness noticeably absent in the XFL’s farcical first incarnation 17 years earlier.
Even after the abrupt collapse of the AAF midway through its first season last April, hopes were still high for “XFL 2.0” as its season kicked off in Washington, DC on February 8, 2020 in front of a near-sellout crowd of hometown Defenders fans at the previously “soccer-specific” Audi Field.
Like the Alliance, the quality of football was high, initial TV ratings were strong, and enthusiastic crowds approached 30,000 in markets like St. Louis and Seattle. But it would not last.
On March 8, after five weeks of play, the XFL announced its inaugural season would be suspended because of growing COVID-19 pandemic concerns and social distancing mandates. On April 10, the league fully halted day-to-day operations and laid off all its employees – except for Commissioner Oliver Luck, who was terminated the day before. The league (technically, McMahon’s sole-purpose LLC, Alpha Entertainment) then filed for bankruptcy three days later and put itself up for sale.
We chat with Seifert on the lead-up to the league’s launch, the current state of affairs, and what might further transpire in the months ahead.