Gimmicky XFL Reboot Will Go Down in Flames Like the Epic Poker League (Op-Ed)

Who’s ready for some XFL football? Many sports fans are, actually, but they won’t be once they see the mediocre, gimmicky product on the field. And, like the defunct Epic Poker League, this professional football league which is set to kick off Saturday, will fail worse than a bluff attempt against a crotch-staring Mike Postle.

XFL Epic Poker League

Can anyone really be all that excited to watch a bunch of former NFL washouts? (Image: Sporting News)

I won’t be tuning in to see the opening week games. I have better things to do with my time, including playing poker, writing articles such as this one, eating, sleeping, catching some college hoops action, and just about anything that doesn’t involve watching a glorified game of minor league football.

There’s no reason to watch this “new” brand of football. I’ve already seen it — in 2001 when the XFL first launched and then collapsed a few months after inception. Sure, league founder Vince McMahon has had 19 years to fix the problems that doomed his original product. And, yes, I’m impressed with the league’s social media marketing game.

But this isn’t a brand of football I expect to last.

XFL Has EPL’s Hand Prints All Over It

Remember the name Jeffrey Pollack? He’s the guy who, along with Annie Duke, created the Epic Poker League in 2011. For those in the poker community who weren’t around the game back then, the invite-only league lasted just three tournaments before folding due to financial issues.

Duke had promised a $1 million, season-ending freeroll, but that never happened. But she did make sure to pay herself a six-figure salary on the way out the door. Classy.

Why am I telling you this story? Because Pollack is the President and COO of the XFL. He’s going to be partially responsible for the success or failure of the game. And my guess is, the end result will be similar to the EPL.

We’ve Seen This Song and Dance Before

Nearly every successful entrepreneur or executive has failed at some point in life. So, I’ll give Pollack a pass for the Epic Poker League. But as the saying goes, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.

Call it what you will, but at the end of the day, the XFL is really just minor league football. The players in the league are a mix of former college stars who couldn’t hack it in the NFL.

What makes anyone think sports fans will invest their time and money into minor league football? This isn’t the first time a minor league brand of football has tried to lure in a massive audience. The XFL attempted it in 2001, and failed. The Arena Football League disbanded in 2019. And the Alliance of American Football (AAF) gave it the old college try last year, but called it quits before the end of the first season due to a lack of anyone giving a rip.

Sports fans in America mostly like sports that either have exciting traditions (college football, college basketball) or the best athletes in that sport competing (NFL, NBA, MLB).

That’s not to say no one enjoys Minor League Baseball or some other minor league sports. But attendance is always low for minor leagues compared to the big leagues. For example, the Las Vegas Aviators of the Pacific Coast League (Oakland Athletics’ AAA affiliate) averaged 9,299 fans in 2019, the largest attendance of any Minor League Baseball team. Compare that to the majors, however, where average attendance around the league is approximately 30,000 fans per game.

Interesting Rules, but Still Just a Gimmick

I’ll admit that I find some of the XFL rules kind of intriguing. There are a few differences in how the games will be officiated compared to the NFL. For example, the league will implement a 25-second play clock as opposed to 40 seconds in the NFL. I like this idea because it will force teams to snap the ball quicker, and should speed up the game.

Another rule change I favor is giving teams just two timeouts per half as opposed to the standard three. Again, this will speed up the game, which isn’t a bad thing. If you’re that interested, you can check out all the rules on the league’s website.

Although a few rules changes are sort of intriguing, they’re really just a gimmick. NFL fans are familiar with a certain style of play that differs from what they’ll see in the XFL. While I do believe many will find the games interesting early on, I also expect them to realize the league is nothing but a cheesy gimmick disguised as professional football.

Pollack has failed before in an executive role. In fact, the EPL has some similarities to the XFL in that it was a gimmick brand of poker. As we saw with the Epic Poker League, which didn’t make it to the end of Season One, Pollack will soon learn a lesson in how gimmicky, minor league football is only entertaining to fans for a short period of time.

I’ve been wrong before, but I won’t be on this one.

Jon Sofen
Written by
Jon Sofen
Semi-pro poker player with 17 years experience on the felt and more than five years working as professional poker media.

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