The NFL hasn’t had much competition in its long history. We all remember the nightmare that was the XFL, summed up by an injured player on what the XFL considered its first “kickoff,” which consisted of two players running full steam to see who could pounce on the ball first. And probably none of us remember the XFL “Million Dollar Game,” the saddest championship game in the history of sports. We’d all stopped watching by that point. But hey, at least they gave us the sky-cam.
Since the XFL died an ignominious death in 2001, the NFL hasn’t had any competition (except, you know, basketball and soccer and other emerging sports). Now, though, with the AAF in the middle of its season and a “new” XFL launching in 2020, where do things stand? Where will football be in 2025?
Quite simply, I don’t believe another league will ever actually be able to compete with the NFL. It has nothing to do with the product on the field or anything really other than the financial landscape of sports looking much different in 2019 than it did half a century ago. This seems especially pertinent given the recent news that the AAF almost ran out of money in its second week.
And, really, we shouldn’t even be surprised. The sheer amount of money required now to launch a successful sports league is astronomical. We live in the days of BILLION dollar rights fees. The right arms race is fully underway as the landscape of television has shifted.
Now, it should be noted that the AAF has the NFL’s blessing, so maybe that will help it stay afloat. But that kinda feels like asking people to watch the G-League vs. the NBA. Sure, the G-League serves a purpose for NBA teams, but I’m certainly not watching it, not when I can watch the Golden State Warriors.
It also remains to be seen how different the XFL will be from the first incarnation. Whereas in 2000, the league was launched under the pretense that the NFL had gotten soft and “not fun,” the new iteration will launch as a direct response to the Colin Kaepernick situation, an interesting play for sure.
But I have no faith that any league, no matter the quality, will ever come even remotely close to challenging the NFL. It won’t be for lack of trying. It’s simply a matter of finances.