April 25, 2018

It’s a Work, Brother: Why the XFL is a Sham

Listen to me carefully when I say this: Vince McMahon doesn’t care about creating a professional football league. Yesterday’s XFL announcement was a money grab, plain and simple. And the media and everyone else is getting worked.

In pro wrestling parlance, a “work” is something that has been staged to look real but is, in fact, staged. In other words, almost all of pro wrestling. If you’re watching wrestling, you’re watching a work. Nothing they show on television is really real. And yet, thousands of viewers tuned in to Vincent K. McMahon’s XFL press conference last Thursday expecting to see a real announcement and a real plan for a new football league.

But it was all bullshit.

Vince detailed exactly zero specific plans for his new football league. And you know why? It’s because this isn’t about football at all. Never was. Never will be. Football, to be clear, is inconsequential to McMahon’s plan.

So what is McMahon’s plan?

Try this on for size: McMahon is creating interest and buzz for the sake of creating buzz. Buzz for what? McMahon himself and the WWE, silly.

Let’s start from the end and work backwards here.

In September of 2019, the WWE’s contract with USA Network (where they currently broadcast Monday Night Raw and Smackdown) expires. At that point (or before), WWE will obviously be looking for a new contract. As with any company looking for a television rights package for their content, the WWE will be trying to make the most money possible. They’re also pretty forward thinking about these types of things. The WWE Network is the best example, as they made the smart choice to deliver an over-the-top platform to fans early on in the streaming game.

In their search for a home for WWE content, Vince will have exactly one goal: Get a television contract that offers the most money and exposure. That’s it.

If we use that end goal as a starting point for discussing the XFL, everything begins to make a little more sense. Because, lest we forget, the XFL, in its last incarnation, was a huge financial disaster. All told, the league lost roughly $70 million. Vince McMahon may be a lot of things, but stupid is not one of them.

To take on the NFL is a huge financial commitment and likely a losing fight. Vince knows this. But what if you can appear to be taking on the NFL without actually doing it, instead driving interest in McMahon as a brand (and, by extension, WWE)? That’s Vince playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers.

See, yesterday, the #1 story in sports was Vince McMahon. You can’t talk Vince McMahon without talking WWE. And, yes, I’m aware that Vince said that there would be “no crossover whatsoever” between XFL and WWE, but that’s carnival barking bullshit. I’m pretty sure that we’re starting from a point of crossover when WWE is tweeting stuff like this out to its 10 million followers:

To say that the XFL has nothing to do with the WWE is complete and utter nonsense. If we want to get down to brass tacks, let’s look at what really matters: Money.

Yesterday, Vince’s XFL announcement that, according to him, had nothing to do with the WWE, drove WWE stock prices through the roof.

That’s right. The buzz around yesterday’s announcement took WWE stock to an all-time high. If the WWE is valued higher than its ever been, that means…drumroll please…their next television rights package will be worth a crap ton of money.

Let’s also consider the timing of all this, which is certainly no coincidence. The WWE just had the 25th anniversary of Monday Night Raw (which TGS wrote about here). They have the Royal Rumble, one of their biggest pay-per-views, coming up this Sunday. The brand hasn’t been this hot in years. The time for Vince to capitalize on all this, with the end goal of a massive television rights deal, is now. Which, of course, is why we got the XFL announcement when we did.

Also, with regard to timing, over the last month or so, there have been various reports leaked about the WWE and/or their television rights potentially being bought by Fox. One such anonymous “report” has the offer at somewhere around $400 million. Now, do you think that figure went up or down after yesterday’s coverage of ol’ Vinny Mac?

There’s also been talk of Amazon and Facebook being interested in the television rights for Vince’s crown jewel. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that these reports are coming out now. They just so happen to line up with the announcement of this football league, this publicity stunt. Pure coincidence and in no way being leaked by the WWE in the interest of drumming up coverage and, thus, revenue.

Also probably just a coincidence is the estimated start date of this league. Vince said that the league plans to kick off in the Spring of 2020. To paraphrase McMahon, that allows them more time to get this right, rather than just the one year they had for the last iteration of the XFL. Yes, two years to create a brand new football league from scratch in which there are currently no players, no teams, no cities, and no television is much more reasonable. Nonsense.

The truth is that this supposed start date is timed to line up with the WWE’s expiring rights deal with the USA Network. This way Vince can sell someone (most likely Fox) on the idea of a rights bundle and laugh all the way to the bank. Whether the XFL gets off the ground or exists at all is inconsequential. Like I said before, Vince doesn’t care about football. But he does care about the WWE and making money, and this sets the WWE and Vince up for a significant financial windfall.

Someone is going to pay through the nose for the WWE because of all this XFL talk, regardless of whether it comes to fruition or not.

While sports websites were debating the differences between this XFL and the last XFL and falling all over themselves to cover this story, Vince McMahon has to be laughing at the absurdity of it. After all, he was able to net $100 million by selling off 4% of his WWE stock. Normally, this would cause panic from investors, causing stock prices to fall. By claiming that he’s using that money to fund “Alpha Entertainment,” the company supposedly behind the XFL, he was actually able to do the opposite: He sent stock prices soaring. That’s some next level manipulation there.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how many teams there are or where they are. It doesn’t matter about the rules of the league. It doesn’t matter where they’re going to get players.To say that the “plan” laid out yesterday was light on details is a gigantic understatement. There was basically no substantive information at all, except for constantly repeating that this will be a “reimagining” of the game of football. But none of that matters. If you’re discussing any of that, you’re getting played. You’re missing the point.

This is about one thing and one thing only: Who is going to pay for the most for the WWE’s television rights? That’s it.

Vince McMahon may be many things, but to label him simply as an out of touch ‘rasslin promoter is off-base, inaccurate, and shortsighted. Regardless of what you think about him, the WWE, or the XFL, make no mistake: Vince McMahon will have the last laugh.

Jason Mitchell
Jason Mitchell 26 Articles
Staff Writer

Jason grew up in Iowa but couldn't bring himself to like Iowa or Iowa State. Instead, he married a Cornhusker. Jason has taught junior high, high school, and college English but is now a stay-at-home dad to three kids. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of reality shows and 1990s professional wrestling.

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