XFL commissioner: ‘I know we’re fighting history’

The XFL has announced the eight cities that will host franchises when the professional football league relaunches in February 2020.

The league, which is being revived after a failed single-season run in 2001, will play its games in Dallas (Globe Life Park), Houston (TDECU Stadium), Los Angeles (StubHub Center), St. Louis (Dome at America’s Center), Seattle (CenturyLink Field), Tampa (Raymond James Stadium), New York (MetLife Stadium) and Washington (Audi Field).

Oliver Luck, the commissioner and CEO of the league, said the XFL made a request for proposals in May and heard from about 30 interested cities. That list was narrowed down to 18 or so over the summer and fall.

Luck said the league expects to name coaches and team nicknames, logos and colours in the first quarter of next year. He said each squad will likely sign a quarterback by next summer. Teams will feature 40-man rosters and players will be signed to year-round contracts, with salaries averaging around $75,000.

“This is a startup, of course. And (pro wrestling magnate) Vince (McMahon) has made a substantial commitment in terms of capital he’s going to put into the league,” Luck said in an interview. “We’ve got financial plans, budgets for a five-year run. I’m of the opinion that you have to really have multiple years to have a sense of whether it’s working.”

“I know we’re fighting history to a certain degree when you look back at all the alternative leagues that have existed. But I do think we’ve got an excellent opportunity to be around for a long, long time.”

During its initial run in 2001, McMahon — the XFL’s founder and chair and CEO of WWE — relied heavily on showbiz flare to market the league as a football extension of his successful wrestling brand. A lacklustre on-field product and plunging television ratings forced the league to fold operations after one season. This time, the league is distancing itself from the WWE and will opt for a more patient and polished approach to building its brand, according to Luck.

“There will be relatively little in common with XFL 2001,” Luck said. “I’ll be the first to admit that the quality of the play in 2001 was not where it needed to be … We have the benefit of really being able to ramp up in the calendar year 2019 and be able to come out of the chute in 2020 playing good, quality football.”

News of the eight host cities leaked when it was posted early on the XFL website; the post was later taken down.

Luck said the XFL zeroed in on Washington because of the location, the region’s enthusiasm for sports and the opportunity to compete in a new stadium. News surfaced Friday that the league will include a Washington franchise that will play its home games at Audi Field, which opened in July as the new home of D.C. United. League officials are still looking for a permanent headquarters and training location for the Washington franchise.

“I love the idea playing in that nice, tight, brand new building in a beautiful part of town that’s really changing rapidly,” Luck said of Audi Field. “So that really got me stoked for Washington. I think it is going to be great to be in a building where you can literally hear the quarterback calling signals. It’s a little different than — I’ve been to FedEx (Field) multiple times — but it’s a different experience. I think people will really enjoy it.”

Luck said the XFL has signed a multiyear agreement with United to use the stadium. Chris Hull, D.C. United’s senior adviser in communications and business operations, said team officials are hoping the stadium can ultimately be active 200 days out of the year. Washington’s XFL team will play a minimum of five games at Audi Field in 2020, according to Hull, who called the stadium “one of the iconic and outstanding venues in North American soccer.”

D.C. United will join eight current MLS teams that share a home stadium with professional or college football teams, which could present some logistical challenges during weeks when the franchises overlap.

“Obviously, you know there’s scheduling, wear and tear on the field, that kind of stuff,” Luck said. “But ultimately, both sides decided this really was the spot to do it.”

The XFL franchise will join a Washington market already flooded with pro sports teams and will become Washington’s third professional football outfit, joining the NFL’s Redskins and the Arena Football League’s Valor.

“We love professional sports in this country. We love college sports in this country. I tend to think that the rising tide lifts all boats,” Luck said, “and the folks that are passionate football fans in the D.C. area, whether it’s pro or college, I think will have an interest in the XFL.”

Luck said the league does not aim to be a temporary tenant at Audi Field.

The Alliance of American Football, founded by Charlie Ebersol, son of former NBC executive Dick Ebersol, who helped launch the XFL with McMahon, will begin play in February 2019 with teams based in Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, Orlando, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Antonio and San Diego.

-Associated Press

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