Lessons the NFL should be taking from the XFL's surprising success

Frank Schwab
·4 min read

Finally, a second American football league might be here to stay.

The XFL has plenty of challenges ahead, but it has to be pleased with how things are going. Everyone expected a nice audience for the first week. Then television ratings were pretty stable in Week 2. And in Week 3, the league had its highest single-game attendance mark. There was still a buzz about the league.

Three fairly positive weeks doesn’t mean the league will be a permanent fixture on the spring sports scene. As we learned from the Alliance of American Football last year, it doesn’t even guarantee the XFL will reach the postseason in its first season. But the XFL is doing things that make it stand out. And there are some things that the NFL could borrow to make its own league better.

Ahmad Dixon of the LA Wildcats smiles after an XFL game against the DC Defenders. (Photo by Ric Tapia/XFL via Getty Images)
Ahmad Dixon of the L.A. Wildcats smiles after an XFL game against the DC Defenders. (Photo by Ric Tapia/XFL via Getty Images)

The XFL is fun

The XFL’s first run, back in 2001, was heavy on gimmicks. They got worse as the season went on and ratings plunged. This XFL has gimmicks too, but it’s not as heavy-handed. In other words, the fun doesn’t seem manufactured.

Where else are you going to find a guy ripping the top off a seltzer can with his teeth to celebrate a win?

And would you find a young Girl Scout successfully trading Thin Mints for a football in the NFL?

Small things, sure, but the XFL players seem to be having fun and that resonates with fans. While the NFL is a Very Serious Business in which minor issues are treated like military secrets, the XFL made a pledge to make the league accessible to fans and has followed through on it.

The XFL’s social media is a hit

If you’re trying to get attention in 2020, you need to be engaging on social media. The XFL has done a great job with that. The XFL floods social media with fun highlights — it took a long time for the NFL to figure out that strategy — and it makes you want to turn on the games. And the games aren’t hard to find, considering the league did a great job securing major television partners.

The league understands all about going viral.

St. Louis is using the XFL as a statement

The NFL has to be paying attention to the buzz in St. Louis over the XFL.

The Rams moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles, but St. Louis still loves its football. The BattleHawks’ announced attendance of 29,554 over the weekend for its home opener was a league record. There was a good energy with the crowd, too.

The Rams had attendance issues before Stan Kroenke moved the team, and it’s disingenuous to ignore that while touting the BattleHawks crowd. But St. Louis will likely be considered if the NFL relocates any of its franchises. It’s one of the most notable markets without a team. If the BattleHawks continue to get strong attendance, that will help keep St. Louis on the NFL’s radar.

Oh, that kickoff return

Some of the XFL’s new rules are weird, some seem to be genius. The kickoffs look odd for longtime football fans, but this was fun:

Not all of the XFL’s new rule ideas are good. But the NFL can watch what works and steal some of the best ones.

The XFL could still have a quick demise. The only constant in the professional football world is the NFL’s success. Everything else is an uphill climb. But the XFL is at least off to a positive start. The NFL should be watching.

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