The XFL’s Quest To Crack Into The $8 Billion Football Market

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By Lamar Johnson

  • The XFL saw a 9.5% attendance rise in its second week
  • Like the NFL, the XFL is approximately comprised of 70% black players

The XFL has risen and is offering football fans an alternative viewing during the National Football League’s hiatus. With the XFL comes new rules, new television contracts and an opportunity to tap into the market that made the NFL $8.78 billion during the 2018-2019 season. Since the average NFL athlete makes $860,000, could this league become a viable path to the big time for black athletes?

Why This Matters: The XFL, like the NFL, is more than 70% black when it comes to players, with two of the league’s eight teams being helmed by black head coaches/general managers. In a bid to carve a market out of the NFL’s off-season, the players will have little say in how profits would be divided up. For example, XFL contracts are non-negotiable and offer no rights to royalties or compensation for likeness, according to NBC Sports. This leaves the athletes of the league susceptible to exploitation, if or when the league becomes viable.

The XFL offers another professional football path for 460 players, all money will ultimately flow from the top

Competition is real as the XFL is not only competing against its first iteration, the league also has to contend with the history of the short-lived Alliance Association of Football (AAF). After a big opening weekend, the XFL saw a 9.5% attendance rise in its second week, though TV-viewership fell slightly after an average of 2.4 million viewers for its first week broadcasts.

The XFL already has a leg up on the AAF, with Disney (DIS -1.00%) owned ESPN and ABC, along with Fox as its broadcasting partners. As a single-entity league Sports Illustrated reported that all revenue from television rights, ticket sales and endorsements goes straight to the XFL to be distributed. This is drastically different from how privately-owned NFL teams mix league-wide revenue sharing with local revenue.

While the XFL offers another professional football path for 460 players, all money will ultimately flow from the top. Founder Vince McMahon, invested and sold off shares of his WWE (WWE +5.22%) empire to fund and resurrect the league, according to XFL Board. Unlike the NFL, every team is owned and operated by the XFL, making every team singularly beholden to the league and allowing policies to be unilaterally passed.

Situational Awareness: Though the dangers of football, mainly brain damage like CTE are widely-known, the XFL provides a great exposure opportunity for its players. Unfortunately, it’s also making players sign contracts that actively disenfranchise them. Whether the XFL garners a share of the market or not, profits won’t trickle down to players, who lack a union or ability to negotiate contracts. So should the league succeed, a fight for player rights and a union are likely on the horizon.

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Lamar Johnson

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