XFL: Make Football Great Again?
September 1, 2016. San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick takes a knee during the National Anthem before the preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, turning the NFL into a political platform. From that day on, football broadcasters and reporters focused on political protests as much as the sport itself, often to the dismay of many NFL fans who simply wanted to watch the game.
Fast forward to January 25, 2018. Vince McMahon, the Chairman of the Board of the WWE, announces the revival of the formerly defunct XFL, a professional football league with a simple proposition: make football its one and only focus. You can even argue that the XFL set out to make football great again. But this ambition goes beyond simple game flow improvements, such as making the games shorter. While the NFL is attempting to find a balance between entertainment and politics, the XFL is not allowing any “political distractions”: there will be no political demonstrations — such as kneeling during the national anthem — and players with criminal records are not welcome.
With its overt emphasis on the game of football, will these changes be enough to attract viewers, and what viewers will the XFL attract? How will people from opposite ends of the political and racial divide react to these changes? Naturally, we were curious and conducted a quick study to see how people feel about the XFL.
The people are ready for some XFL football
Overall, people are somewhat likely to watch XFL games. When asked why they were likely to watch them, most people said they wanted to “check it out” (83% support) and “see what it will be like” (82% support). Most people are intrigued by the “new and different” (71% support) league and are willing to give the XFL a chance. The politics-free proposition with players who can be role models on and off the field appealed to respondents, but people were more interested in the opportunity to watch more football.
Of the 20% of people who were unlikely to watch XFL games, some viewed the changes as a denial of free speech. Aside from the politics, others simply believed the talent would not be of the same caliber as NFL players.
It appears that the XFL has a market of interested viewers, so who should the league target as their main customers?
Conservatives embrace the changes while liberals are slightly skeptical
Based on a small sample of liberal and conservative respondents, both political groups showed about the same interest in watching XFL games. Shorter game times and the ban of players with criminal records appealed to both groups of people. In regards to the ban on political demonstrations, conservatives favored the policy more than liberals and, when asked why they would watch XFL games, were more likely to agree with statements like “I like that there won’t be any politics involved” (91% vs. 57%) and “I don’t like political demonstrations in sports” (90% vs. 60%). Liberals appeared to be split on the policy, with an even number of people strongly in favor of the ban against those who strongly opposed to the ban (about 30% of liberals each). Based on these findings, don’t be surprised if XFL ads start airing on FOX News and other conservative-leaning channels.
Does race matter?
The National Anthem protests enhanced the dissonance between white and black citizens. Will the XFL exacerbate the racial divide, or will it unite people under a common appreciation for football? From this small sample, white and black respondents were both likely to watch XFL games and to favor the changes being made. Granted, the limited sample size prevents us from definitively generalizing the sentiment of the two races; however, the study reveals that both black and white citizens want to turn off politics for 2 hours and enjoy a football game in its purest form.
The XFL is receiving a second chance, and football fans across the nation expressed interest in the new league. But, with viewers’ attention solely on the game, the XFL must deliver the same level of competition and talent as the NFL to miantain its viewers. The XFL has potential to be a massive success, but time will tell whether the XFL is here to stay or if it will fade out of the spotlight.