In a swerve that Vince McMahon would have been proud to script, Charlie Ebersol, son of Dick Ebersol and director of the critically acclaimed XFL 30 for 30, announced the formation of the Alliance of American Football, which will launch in 2019 with a near exact copy of the XFL’s stated game plan. For a complete rundown of the Alliance, I recommend this story from Variety. But plenty of unanswered questions remain.
Did Vince know this was coming?
This is by far the biggest and most fascinating question. On the one hand, it’s hard to fathom that that longtime family friend of the Ebersols wouldn’t have known. Charlie Ebersol obviously put a lot of work in behind the scenes, raising money and picking the brains of people that can help him. If you’re doing due diligence into starting a football league, why on earth would you not talk to the family friend who ran one himself?
On the other hand, is that less credulous than Vince McMahon re-launching the XFL against a direct competitor using the exact same business plan who will have beaten him to market by a full year? Neither makes sense. But one, apparently, must be true.
What does this mean for the XFL?
My first reaction was that the XFL packs up shop. The margin of error is so slim and the cost of failure is so high to try to execute this in the same space. Vince has barely invested anything into the venture so far, and it stands to reason that most WWE people would be more than happy to see the idea die.
But Vince is a stubborn guy, and competition certainly brought out the best in him as a wrestling promoter. For all we know, getting word that someone else was going to execute his vision is exactly what pushed him to try again in the first place. If that’s the case, it’s going to set the stage for an absolutely fascinating battle. Forget XFL vs. NFL talk, which was always just hype. The XFL vs. The Alliance is a battle that could literally play out on the gridiron.
Who is in a better position to succeed?
Ebersol put on a very slick and impressive show yesterday, but unlike the XFL, who we know has $100 million in the bank, we heard little in terms of specifics on funding. We know he has major investors; we don’t know how much they’ve committed. We know he has a television deal with CBS; we don’t know how much, or even if, they’re paying for the broadcast rights. In the end, both the Alliance and the XFL will be exactly as serious as the amount of money they’re prepared to lose.
What’s next for both leagues?
The Alliance is going to be rolling out cities, coaches, and venues over the next two months. The city selections are arguably the most important decisions a league can make, so we’ll get a sense very quickly of both how smart the Alliance really is and also whether there are enough quality markets left on the table for the XFL to enter the fray. We gleaned from comments at the Facebook Live Q&A that there will be a team in the west and the south. We also know that there will be a team in Florida — whether that’s the same team as the southern team was not clear.
Meanwhile, WWE’s Wrestlemania takes place on April 8. The week beforehand is a media blitz for the company, and we will surely get a sense of whether Vince is going to press forward or not. Before a WWE press conference on Friday, the XFL promotional video was playing on screen, so the plan was still to make a go of it before the Alliance press conference. We’ll find out in the coming weeks whether or not that has changed.