Every now and then, a fringe football league pops up to try to continue the excitement of the NFL post-season through the spring. The XFL has tried twice: once in 2001, and again in 2020. The 2001 iteration of the league failed spectacularly, while the 2020 iteration was doomed by the sudden lockdowns in March of that year.
Now, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson has bought the XFL from former owner Vince McMahon. With plenty of capital backing the project and a slew of new teams added to the roster, the alternative football league will look to keep fans engaged long after the NFL’s regular season and post-season wrap-up in February of next year. Will it be enough to break through into the mainstream this time?
Johnson, a partial owner of the XFL, has unveiled the new lineup of teams for the 2023 season. The D.C. Defenders, Houston Roughnecks, and St. Louis Battlehawks will be unchanged from the abbreviated 2020 season. The Seattle Dragons are staying put, too, but have changed their name slightly to the Sea Dragons. The New York Guardians moved to Orlando during the league’s downtime, and the Tampa Bay Vipers are now located in Las Vegas. The Renegades made the smallest move, scooting from Houston to Arlington.
Finally, the only brand-new team in the lineup is the San Antonio Brahmas. They’ll be replacing the Los Angeles Wildcats from the 2020 season. Notably, three of these eight teams are located in Texas–a state with a huge population, several massive cities, and an extremely big appetite for football.
Spring football leagues have popped up from time to time with varying degrees of success. None have ever come close to the NFL in terms of viewership or game attendance, though. The new iteration of the XFL will hope to change things by offering a league that viewers will be able to watch exclusively on ESPN.
This could be enough to entice high ratings and fan engagement. After all, to follow football games, fans need to have expensive cable packages and could find the games on a variety of different channels. The XFL, meanwhile, will be available through ESPN’s app, thanks to a deal between Johnson and ESPN’s parent company, Disney. Time will tell whether the two football leagues can both keep the audience’s attention in the US.