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XFL Folds As A Result Of COVID-19 Economic Crisis

The XFL is the first sports league to fold as a result of the COVID-19 work stoppage impacting the entire country. ESPN reports that the XFL has suspended operations and have laid off their staff while having no plans to return in 2021.

This is incredibly disappointing news for football fans everywhere who wanted to see a viable secondary league succeed during the NFL offseason. After playing five weeks of XFL football, the league suspended their season on March 12 because of COVID-19.

The XFL only got through half of their scheduled 10 games before suspending the season and canceling their championship game. While on March 12 the XFL expressed interest in playing a full 2021 season, it no longer seems like the league will continue any further.

There were a couple of signs that the XFL was in trouble. XFL viewership declined every week of the season. The debut weekend saw the XFL receive an average of 3.12 million viewers. That number dropped to an average of around 800,000 viewers by Week 5, according to XFL reporter Mike Mitchell.

While we don’t know how the XFL’s ratings would have gone had the league been able to finish their season, it is really not good that the league had fewer and fewer viewers every week. Maybe we would have seen an uptick in viewership when the playoffs started, but it’s hard to say with their declining numbers.

Even with declining numbers, the numbers they did receive are still impressive themselves for a new league. For example, the February 29 matchup between the Seattle Dragons and St. Louis Battlehawks took place at the same time as the NFL Scouting Combine on ABC. According to the Washington Times, the XFL received 1.8 million viewers while the NFL Scouting Combine received 976,00 views.

It is a good sign that a regular-season XFL game was able to dominate over a televised NFL offseason event. The XFL was never going to replace the NFL, but the fact that the XFL found space during the NFL offseason to attract football viewers is a major positive.

Another obstacle facing the league was the shaky finances the league was founded on. Vince McMahon and his WWE were being sued by a shareholder alleging financial overlap between the WWE and the XFL.

When McMahon relaunched the XFL, he declared that his wrestling operation would be separate from his football operation. McMahon created Alpha Entertainment to fund the XFL separately. However, the lawsuit alleges that WWE resources were used to help fund the XFL.

McMahon pledged $500 million of his own money to fund the XFL’s first three seasons. McMahon’s self-funding was an advantage over the prior upstarted leagues that flamed out, as he didn’t have to rely on outside investors to keep the league floating. There is no evidence the league or McMahon ran out of money, but I can imagine that not being able to finish their season made it much financially harder to continue the league for year two.

The COVID-19 economic crisis facing the country has paused all pro sports, but no one was financially worried about the major leagues being unable to return. The XFL was in a unique position where a work stoppage in their inaugural season did not guarantee their return. The league was in the process of establishing their fan base and the work stoppage killed all momentum.

It is significantly disappointing the league has ended considering the XFL did everything right. XFL games were broadcasted on ABC/ESPN and FOX to give the league national exposure. XFL players were NFL quality. The league had fun and fresh new football rules which offered exciting changes to the game of football. The XFL was the best attempt at establishing a spring football product that had long-term viability.

To the XFL players, coaches, league executives, stadium workers, and fans, this is not how anyone pictured the league to end. It is tragic that an unforeseen economic crisis is what killed the league and not because the XFL was pushing a faulty product or having poor execution. Many XFL players saw this league as another shot at proving they deserve to be in the NFL, and it’s a shame they won’t get that chance anymore.

Big congratulations are in order to the fourteen XFL players who signed NFL contracts as a result of their XFL play. The XFL wanted to prove that their players were NFL quality and that the league could’ve been used as a type of football minor leagues. They succeeded as some of their best players signed NFL deals.

To the next Spring football league that tries to establish themselves, they should build off what the XFL accomplished and try to replicate the best parts of the league. The XFL got so close to becoming viable, you gotta think one of these years a successful Spring football league will be able to exist long term. Until then, the struggle for a successful NFL offseason secondary Spring football league will continue.

For more information about COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website or the website for your state’s Department of Health.

For more XFL content, check out Zachary’s author page or Twitter.

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