Football fans were worked into a frenzy this past weekend with the exciting conclusion of the NFL Europe and Arena Football League finals. What was a die-hard football addict to do? Something--almost anything--else if television numbers and a half-full Thomas and Mack Center are any indication. Fans stayed away like it was an early season Arizona Cardinals game.
That leads to only possible conclusion:
We need the XFL.
We need the Xtreme, the Rage, and Maniax. We need He Hate Me, Tommy Maddox, and Jesse Ventura. (Okay maybe not Jesse the Body). We need the pre-game scrum, cameramen on the field, and no fair catches. Football fans need some extreme during the apocalyptic post-Super Bowl wasteland of sports.
The NHL has lock itself into oblivion. The NBA--if you believe commissioner David Stern's saber rattling--is destined to do the same. March Madness is too fast, and early season baseball is for those fans of down-trodden franchise to believe that they have a chance to compete. Like the Dodgers.
The fans need football. NFL Europe and the Arena League gave it a good effort, but they are Billy Joe Tolliver and Billy Joe Hobert of professional football leagues.
Football fans are never going to care about fringe NFL players overseas. And European fans outside of Germany (which plays host to five of the six NFLE franchises) don't care much for the American game. And is there anything more awkward than watching a stadium full of Euros that don't understand what they are cheering about? It's like watching the NFL in St. Louis.
The AFL is fun. It's fan-friendly. The players (like most minor league players) are accessible. But nobody is buying it. People root for the league to survive because they are such a nice group of people. Yet they don't care enough to make the effort to go to the games. Most fans need to be driven personally to the arena to even make an effort with free tickets.
And sometimes that isn't even enough.
The league held it's ArenaBowl in Fabulous Las Vegas and it couldn't paper a crowd of more than 11,000 people into a 15,000-seat building. Las Vegas is the land of comps. If it can't market a championship game in the world's biggest travel destination, what hope is there?
Paul Tagliabue and the AFL owners (which includes NFL owners, former players, and hair bands) need to bury the hatchet with WWE owner Vince McMahon and create a viable minor league football farm system. They need to re-create the XFL. Let Greg Hopkins run down the sidelines of Angels Stadium, in a LA Xtreme uniform that says, "Playboy" on the back. If they could combine McMahon's showmanship with the AFL's legitimate football backers, they could be on to something.
The inaugural XFL season wasn't the disaster many believed it to be. The league couldn't match NFL numbers on NBC, but how many sports leagues could? (Note, sports leagues meaning Nascar is disqualified from the conversation.) What would be the XFL's competition from the past weekend? Golf? College baseball?
The XFL could become a model for minor leagues if they just followed a few subtle changes.
Move the games to smaller venues. The XFL was a little too ambitious to jump into huge stadiums such as the LA Coliseum and Giants Stadium. Find a more appropriate 30,000-seat stadium so that fans feel like they are at a game and not in the Soldier Field witness relocation program. It also looks way better on television.
Pick locations that are starving for NFL teams such as Los Angeles, San Antonio, Las Vegas, and Cincinnati. The original XFL had three NFL cities (New York, Chicago, and San Francisco). Exchange those with Hartford, San Antonio, and Portland.
Quit trying to take on the NFL. McMahon did not lie when he ripped the NFL. But common sense should have been the better part of valor. If he had resisted his own bravado, the XFL would be a NFL farm system today.
Get rid of the announcers in the stands--unless it's Joe Theismann getting punched in the mouth by a drunk LA Xtreme fan.
The NFL also could benefit from a little goose from the WWE. The league already stole a few ideas from the defunct league with the ESPN camera angle and the look of some of the new uniforms. The NFL has seemed a little too stogy in recent years and a splash of the WWE could do some good.
The real winners would be the fans, who deserve something a little bit better than glorified soccer and scaled-down passing league. The fans deserve the XFL.