If you think Raymond James Stadium will be collecting dust during the NFL offseason, think again. Tampa is allegedly becoming one of eight inaugural cities for the upcoming Xtreme Football League for the 2020 season.
No formal announcement has been made yet—delayed until today—what the host cities will be, but a leak from the XFL’s website has Tampa and Washington DC among the inaugural cities.
The XFL was revived by WWE owner and Chairman Vince McMahon under a subsidiary called Alpha Entertainment. The first incarnation of the league, founded in 1999 with partner NBC, included the Orlando Rage down on the east end of Interstate 4.
Despite having two years to prepare for the inaugural season, the league folded in its inaugural season in 2001. Aside from sagging ratings, the game had more than its share of hiccups, the mixing of showmanship and presentation of professional football with wrestling among them. Since wrestling is pre-determined, legitimacy was initially questioned with WWE Raw commentators Jerry “The King” Lawler and Jim Ross calling games along with other broadcast professionals covering separate games.
The players came from college and the NFL, veterans looking at one last opportunity to get back into the league. The league was often criticized for the over-the-top wrestling-style presentation from custom jerseys (i.e.: Rod “He Hate Me” Smart) to substandard play. Numerous players did transition into the NFL, including XFL MVP Tommy Maddox, who ended up getting a second stint in the league as a starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The XFL’s legacy wasn’t completely discounted as the NFL adopted a few things from the league like overhead camera angles and a more active role for sideline reporters.
While McMahon promises WWE will have nothing to do with the XFL, which was the primary reason for the creation of Alpha Entertainment, he is taking input from football enthusiasts far and wide before the season’s start.
Tampa’s XFL team would fulfill the city’s desire for NFL off-season football since the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League ceased operations in 2017. Given the NFL has no minor league outside of the NCAA, fans will see two leagues emerge to battle out for the post-NFL blues with the Alliance of American Football starting in 2019 and XFL the following year. Orlando will have the luxury of seeing their new team first with the Apollos in the AAF.
The best-case scenario for both leagues to thrive and to not risk hurting their delicate operations is to merge operations once they establish themselves. Alternative football has often struggled to maintain longevity. Financial difficulties created recurring problems for the AFL and Legends Football League. The Storm and the Tampa Bay Breeze of the LFL were such victims of contraction. Other leagues like the United States Football League and the United Football League have already folded operations. The AFL is down to four teams. The AAF and XFL certainly have a lot they’ll have to overcome.
Has McMahon learned from his mistakes from his first incarnation of the XFL? Will the quality of competition be far worse? We’ll see as the league takes better shape next year.