I don’t need to give you a history lesson of how the original XFL’s sole season in 2001 was a disaster — it’s been more than well-documented just how bad it was, both from a business standpoint and the football that was played.
Of course, the XFL’s short existence didn’t come without its innovations, such as the now widely used “SkyCam” and players being mic’d up on the field, and even gave us a pop culture icon in running back Rod Smart, better known by his hilarious jersey nickname “He Hate Me.” But I think we can all come to the agreement that maybe the XFL wasn’t executed as well as it could’ve been.
Despite this failure, however, Vince McMahon — the CEO of WWE, co-owner of the original XFL, and renowned crazy person — has decided to give the sport of gridiron football another shot. And in 2020, the newest incarnation of XFL will take off.
Like the original XFL, the league will feature 8 teams in different markets. These markets are Los Angeles, Dallas, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Houston, Seattle, D.C., and New York.
Just recently, the names of each team were revealed, with the New York XFL franchise being given the name the “Guardians” as an ode to the city’s classic Art Deco architecture, which features gargoyles that symbolize protectors from “nefarious spirits.”
There’s actually a really cool promotional video to go along with it, too!
Now, you might be wondering... what does this have to do with New York City FC?
Well, nothing. But the fact that a new sports team has entered the New York sports market very well could — and maybe even should — have something to do with the Boys in Blue in the future. And here’s how.
When the New York Guardians begin play next spring, they will be playing in MetLife Stadium — home to both the New York Giants and the New York Jets of the NFL — in East Rutherford, New Jersey. To put it as bluntly as I can, even if the XFL is able to survive and become a viable viewing option for football fans during the NFL offseason, the Guardians are unlikely to be filling up MetLife Stadium — which can seat just under 83,000 people — to full capacity any time soon.
The XFL knows this as well, which is why two of its teams, namely the LA Wildcats and the D.C. Defenders, will be sharing their stadiums with MLS teams — the Wildcats will join the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers as tenants of the LA Galaxy’s Dignity Health Sports Park while the Defenders will play their home games at D.C. United’s Audi Field, neither of which has a total capacity over 27,000.
You see where I’m going with this?
Meanwhile, just across the Hudson River, New York City FC has had a hard time securing a stadium deal that would allow them to play within the confines of the Big Apple and escape from the narrow non-optimal dimensions of Yankee Stadium. This search has been ongoing since the team was first announced in 2013 and — apart from optimistic predictions from higher-ups earlier this year — shows no signs of ending any time soon.
In that six-year timeframe, the only time NYCFC has gotten even remotely close to a deal was back in 2017 when the club — along with the NHL’s New York Islanders — put a bid on land in Belmont. Long story short, it didn’t pan out. And since then, all there’s been is conjecture and vague reports.
The Stadium Saga has been a hot button issue for years among NYCFC supporters and until a deal is announced and a shovel hits the dirt, fans will continue to express their displeasure with the wacky, sometimes unbearable field conditions.
So, how does this all link together?
Undoubtedly, some fans may be skeptical about an NYCFC-Guardians joint effort to secure some digs of their own. And rightfully so. On paper, a relatively established team in New York City has little to gain by teaming up with a brand new team in a brand new football league, especially when the Alliance of American Football (AAF) — another upstart spring football league — closed up shop mere weeks into its very first season just a few months ago.
But there are several indicators as to why this particular bunch of circumstances are different than those of the past. Let’s address them one by one.
Vince is the one with the money
One of the now-defunct AAF’s biggest mistakes was that neither Charlie Ebersol or Bill Pollian, the league’s co-founders, were the ones with the money — that was main investor Tom Dundon, who was to make an investment of $250 million just to cover the first week of payroll. Needless to say, it didn’t quite work out as Dundon only distributed $70 million of the needed funds.
This type of financial disorganization right out of the gate was the writing on the wall that the AAF probably wouldn’t last much longer. And this type of confusion isn’t one that XFL seems destined to repeat.
Upon announcing the league last January, Vince McMahon told the press that he would be investing $100 million of his own money into the XFL. Since then, league commissioner Oliver Luck said that the higher-ups are willing to invest as much as $500 million into the league in just its first season, which is five times the budget of the XFL’s original 2001 season and almost double that of AAF’s needed budget.
So, we know what the number is and where it’s coming from. And that’s always a plus.
XFL is in it for the long haul
As crazy as it sounds considering how bad it was, McMahon never intended on letting the original XFL go under. The thing is, Vince wasn’t running the show by himself back then.
The original XFL was actually a 50-50 partnership between the WWE (then known as WWF) and NBC. After it was apparent that the league’s ratings were in a permanent free fall, NBC pulled out of the league. McMahon was determined to keep it going and even entered negotiations with UPN to broadcast the games in the future. Unfortunately, the terms weren’t all that appealing and McMahon begrudgingly folded the league.
This time around, it’s a bit different.
Vince, under his new company Alpha Entertainment, is the sole owner of the new XFL. And history has shown that he is quite stubborn and will stop at nothing to make his endeavors a success.
And that’s not all.
According to recent reports, McMahon will be stepping away from his role as chairman of WWE. With the relaunch of XFL on the horizon, this is very telling. And as a pro wrestling fan myself, I can tell you with confidence that this development is far from insignificant. WWE is very much Vince’s baby and for him to be relinquishing even a bit of control of its day-to-day operations is not only a surprise, it’s outright shocking.
If “the man with the biggest grapefruits” is letting go of the reins of the company that has largely defined him for almost his whole adult life, then make no mistake about it: he’s in the football business for the long haul.
Now that we’ve got all of the circumstances out of the way, let’s get back to this stadium talk.
It’s become apparent that whatever NYCFC is doing right now as it pertains to their stadium search isn’t working. And maybe now, after over six years of much of the same, a new approach is needed.
This is where Vince McMahon comes in. Here are a few of the benefits his involvement brings to table and some of the incentives that will help the Guardians as well.
Love him or hate him, there are few people who know and have as much influence over the New York entertainment industry as Vince does. To give you an example of how big of an influence he has, look no further than WWE’s newest competitor All Elite Wrestling (AEW).
AEW is probably the hottest commodity in all of pro wrestling. And according to reports, they have been blackballed from performing at Madison Square Garden simply because McMahon said “nah.” I don’t know about you. But any guy who has the power to block a rapidly growing company from using one of the most famous arenas in the world is a guy I want in my corner.
A smaller stadium in NYC would greatly help the Guardians’ image
As I touched upon in this article’s opening, the Guardians will be playing their first seasons at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. And like I said before, there is no way an upstart team in an upstart league will be filling the 83,000 capacity MetLife any time soon.
And if Vince hates anything, it’s empty seats. So much to the point that WWE will literally give away seats for free on nights where they are broadcasting one of their main live shows just to give the illusion that they are operating under sell-out conditions.
By having a stadium that wouldn’t exceed 25-30,000 capacity and not having to worry about filling up one of the biggest stadiums in the United States, the Guardians would all but ensure a festive gameday atmosphere for each home game.
By also helping NYCFC procure a stadium within the boundaries of the five boroughs, the Guardians could also have the unique opportunity to market the team as New York City’s one and only football team located in the city itself and not the outskirts of New Jersey like the Jets or Giants of the NFL, or as a team closer to Canada than it is the NY metro like the Buffalo Bills.
Of course, there are probably many other factors that can come into play. But this article has gone on long enough and I’d love to leave some room for the community to offer their own opinions.
So please, share your thoughts in the comments! Should NYCFC and the Guardians pursue a joint-purpose stadium? Are there enough benefits for both parties to keep everyone happy?