By Rafael Ford
As I sat there Sunday afternoon quelling my morbid curiosity with the spectacle from south of the border that is the Xtreme Football League, a question suddenly came to mind. Is Vince McMahon really serious? Although he would have you believe otherwise, upon reflection the answer became clear. No, he isn’t!
Nobody will dispute the entrepreneurial wisdom of Mr. McMahon, a man who has turned a profit by televising overgrown, scantily-clad men tossing each other about. However, creating a new league of professional football, something previously tried and failed by past entrepreneurs, is not only risky but warrants a mental examination, right? Based on history you might even say this league is doomed for failure. If I were to say McMahon planned it this way, you would probably say I need a mental examination too.
But how else can you explain the existence of a league calling itself professional but filling its rosters with National Football League and college draft leftovers with little or no professional experience? Admittedly this is only the first season and the average XFL team salary is a mere five per cent of the lowest paid team in the NFL, so who else would want to play? And who knows, once the Buffalo Bills give up on Doug Flutie or if Steve Young decides to make a comeback, they may also want to join. Both events, however, are unlikely and the reality is Mc-Mahon would like to keep it this way.
Vince McMahon, as well as his cohorts at NBC, realize American sports fans are traditionalists. They like football in the fall, basketball and hockey in the winter and baseball in the summer. Who can really blame them? It would be difficult enough to find even the hardiest Canadian willing to sit outside in Winnipeg in February to watch second-rate pro hockey, much less many Americans willing to sit outside in New Jersey to watch football. Look no further than week two, and a 50 per cent drop in ratings to see my point.
Surely Mr. McMahon, the intelligent capitalist that he is, would have seen this coming. Is there no way he would be so short-sighted? I say not only did he see all this beforehand, but he also saw the potential to profit in the little time available. Fill a 65,000 capacity stadium with curious onlookers at $35 a seat, pay those athletes willing to take abuse and make some money in the short term so they can play the sport they love for a little while longer as little as possible. Throw in some salary incentives for winning the game, delete some rules, add some raunchy cheerleaders and a flashy coloured football, and you have yourself a short term profit scenario. Sure, the fans are tuning in at the moment, but like in the past, the fans will eventually get bored and the teams will run out of people willing to take abuse. When the time comes, McMahon will be able to return to fighting with his daughter in the WWF. With his millions in the bank he’ll wait for the next great exploitation. To you, Mr. McMahon, a salute–for this simple little strategy is truly genius.
As for Sunday when I once again quell my curiosity, I will pay attention for a few extra moments knowing what I’m witnessing is not only history in the making but an event few of us will ever remember.