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On January 25, 2018 Vince McMahon announced that he was getting back into the professional football business. While he is using the initials of the old league of the same name he was involved with, this one is clearly a new league and the ownership situation is also vastly different. The announcement immediately set off a major public outcry ranging from jesting to celebration. There is no doubt that the XFL can succeed and make money in the modern world, the broadcast rights and merchandising alone have changed the way pro-sports can make money from the old way (which is still used by the NFL). Of the celebrating faction of the public, there was an immediate outpouring of love with everyone trying to prove why their city should get a team.
It is here that the success of the league may be decided. There are already many articles I have found suggesting or guessing at what cities will get a team. I do not believe though that the success of the league depends on what city gets a team, but on the venues that the XFL chooses to use. My biggest fear for the league is that McMahon is a business man and a guy who always wants to “go big”. However, the league must realize that the attendance from the initial league shows the average attendance per game overall was 23,410 people per game, the lowest being Chicago with 15,710 and the highest being San Francisco with 35,005. The numbers are low, mainly due to the per game numbers dropping as the year went on.
With a better product promised (speed of game, no crazy gimmicks or non-football announcers that turned off the real football crowd), they can probably maintain better attendance and avoid the scrutiny of the product by sticking to football and showing it. However, in all stadiums, excluding San Francisco, even at their highest attendance figures the huge college/NFL stadiums being used just made the stadiums look empty and this hurt perception and helped the demand drop. It is here where the chance to really improve perception and increase demand lay. It is the venue choice that will really make a difference.
I want to preface this by saying that I love football. I am not a wrestling fan. I have no watched any wrestling in over 15 years. However, the XFL may well want to do what the old wrestling ECW did in order to bring in an audience. No, not be super violence, but to play to smaller, louder venues and crowds. Packing a small arena creates a more intimate venue where fans get a better look at the action and feel closer to the game. This will also cut the demand in trying so hard to fill large stadiums that they have no chance at doing at this point given the league history, while at the same time creating a product that will look great on TV with sold out or near sold out crowds and an awesome product to see live with the closeness to the game and the noise level that will result. It would not take long for this to get noticed by the media, who would focus on what they would perceive as a large crown due to the lack of empty seats and the reporting of the games will create a positive demand. More people will want to go and more people will want to watch. Surely, they would not be able to make fun of a league if the league is selling out its games. The fact they are using smaller stadiums would not even be brought into question.
When you combine use of a smaller venue and selection of cities that have fans that would go crazy just to have a professional team in their city, you create a good shot at creating long term success. Even with moderately larger crowds, and it should not be too hard to get the average crowd up to about 30,000 (7K more then first league) in the first year with proper city and venue placement and sustain it throughout the year. I would not use a stadium of over 45,000 capacities in general, though 1 possible exception comes to mind. Anyway, here are some of my suggestions.
Rentschler Field – East Hartford, CT
Hartford is a sports town, yet top flight teams have not lasted here. There are minor league teams present in the city and this stadium is the home to the UConn Huskies. This stadium though was built also with the New England Patriots in mind, though they went elsewhere. The stadium is newer, being opened in 2013, and has many modern amenities that would be desirable to fans and teams. The stadium Max Capacity is 40,642 and would look great for the game as it will draw people from CT, NY and Massachusetts.
MAPFRE Stadium – Columbus, OH
The stadium appears that will soon be vacant. This is the home of the MLS Columbus Crew, who appear to be leaving. The stadium has a capacity of around 20,000 (which may end up being a bit too small) but they would have no problem selling out this venue weekly and it is loud. The huge Ohio stadium on the campus of Ohio State University just does not make sense as this stadium would be less than half filled and end up creating same perception problems the league had first time around.
Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium – Canton, OH
A beautiful, made for football stadium opened in 2016 provides the newness and amenities needed for a pro team. Located just next to the Pro Football Hall of Fame having a pro-tenant would create a huge buzz. Imagine the gall of the XFL having this is a main stadium location and how some would perceive it as a smack in the NFL’s face. But doesn’t the pro-football hall of fame deserve a pro football team playing next to it and not just in the preseason? The stadium fits 23,000 and would likely be sold out every game. This would be a great alternative to Columbus.
TD Ameritrade Park – Omaha, NE
Nebraska has a long standing football heritage. Yet, no major league team has been here in modern times. This stadium is built for baseball, but has been used as a football venue before. It is new (built in 2011), and seats 24,000 people. The XFL would have no issue selling out this venue regularly and the city is really hungry for a Pro Football team. Get Loud and Proud Omaha!
The Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark -Oklahoma City, OK
While the obvious nearby stadium would be the Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, the XFL would be wise to avoid such a large venue for reasons stated before. The only other feasible option in this football crazed area is this baseball stadium with a seating capacity over 13,000. Opened in 1998 it is still not too old and would be comfortable and packed every week.
War Memorial Stadium – Little Rock, AR
Arkansas loves football. Yet no major pro league has had a team in the state. This stadium would be on the larger size, 54,120 capacity, but this city is located in an area that would certainly fit what they want and would be the only major pro-sport in town. I do not know if they can fill it every week, but they should come close given the conservative nature of the area and the love of football here.
Orlando City Stadium – Orlando, FL
A brand new stadium in Orlando used mainly for soccer at this time with a capacity of 25,500 has all the amenities wanted for a modern sport venue. Every seat is also close to the action and this place gets loud even for soccer matches. As a pro-football venue it would be outstanding. If this fails the nearby Spectrum Stadium may also be used if UCF agrees to it, at a reasonable 45,300 seats, though it is less likely to sell out or be as great on TV as the new stadium here is.
Rio Tinto Stadium (20,213 capacity) or Rice Eccles Stadium (just over 45,000 capacity)– Salt Lake City, UT
Another city that is lacking in major pro sports, just an MLS and NBA team are present in this growing city in a very scenic area. This city, also very conservative and likely to support football that may be seen as more conservative than the NFL, may come out in droves to support the XFL due to its perception and due to the thought of having pro football. I believe the league would do fairly well here and easily sell out Rio Tinto and either sell out or at least have around 75% capacity of Rice Eccles, which would still be good for TV
Providence Park – Portland, OR
This 22,000 seat stadium roars during MLS matches. They would certainly be packing it for XFL also. This city has gotten behind every sport team placed here in a big way; there is no reason to believe this would be any different.
Miller Park – Milwaukee, WI
This 41,900 seat stadium has a roof so the cold climate would not be an impact on game day here. Milwaukee is a large city devoid of football with fans split between the NFL Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Giving this city its own team to watch would go over well and there is no doubt they can bring in acceptable attendance here in a comfortable and modern environment.
I have other honorable mentions, such as the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland CA, which will have no football tenant by the time the NFL kicks off and the city loves football and the Bay Area did do well the first time around for the XFL, but can they really put in enough people to fill a 61,000 seat stadium enough to look good on TV or feel good live? I am unsure based on XFL history. The same goes for the Alamodome in San Antonio TX, a state that loves football, but at a 72,000 seating capacity can this really be seriously considered as viable without leaving tons of empty seats and being an embarrassment? I would leave such a venue for later on after a demand has been created that may make such a place feasible and the XFL denouncers go away along with all the memories of the old 2001 version of the league.