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Can a Change in Marketing Strategy Produce Success from a Previous Failure?

The National Football League (NFL) has become part of American culture, tantalizing fans year after year and engaging them in a sport that has become an unabridged addiction. American football, not that other game by the same name played around the world, captures the seemingly undivided attention of nearly all members of American society from September to December each year. Garnering a tidy $14.8 billion in total revenue each year, the 32 teams of the NFL are an economic-generating powerhouse, no matter their community. True fans just cannot seem to get enough of the sport, at least that is what one, once failed but not deterred sports promoter is hoping.

Vince McMahon, Chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), is once again attempting to turn his success in professional wrestling into gold by revisiting his idea that there is a place in America for another professional football league. His first attempt at establishing the XFL in 2001 failed miserably to find an audience large enough to sustain itself for more than one short season. The effort cost investors more than $70 million. The idea of a Winter and Spring football schedule, to fill in the gap between NFL seasons, appears to be getting another tryout. Will 20 years and some changes to the marketing plan produce anything other than another embarrassment for McMahon and his newest investors?

The new effort got underway just after the completion of the NFL Super Bowl festivities. On February 8th, the DC Defenders hosted the Seattle Dragons at Audi Field. The XFL’s first foray into television advertising promised little more than a cure for “football withdrawal” and was mild on promises and devoid of the usual hype generally experienced prior to the opening of a mega event. This novel approach is in significant contrast to the promotion of the XFL’s maiden season in 2001 when McMahon was accused of over-promising and under-delivering. This time, marketers are listening to their target audience and making changes that reflect consumer opinions.

“The XFL provides brands with the opportunity to bring football fans closer to the game they love through more access, more action and more fun. Navigate and Connect have the expertise, track record and relationships to visualize this unique opportunity for partners,” said Jordan Schlachter, Chief Marketing and Commercial Officer at the XFL. The 2020 league consists of eight teams, divided into two divisions representing markets in Washington D.C., New York, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston. Teams will play a 10-game schedule with five home games and five on the road. The XFL brand identifies itself as a much faster version of the NFL with many changes to the rules that allow a game to be played in under three hours.

The initial response to ticket sales has been better than expected. The gameday price to attend the D.C. Defenders’ inaugural contest reached $130 on the secondary market, and the Houston Roughnecks decided to open up two additional sections in TDECU Stadium to accommodate unexpected demand. In order to continue to draw a fan base large enough to sustain the league’s future will depend upon organizers’ ability to extract player and team performances that keep fans in the seats, viewers in front of their widescreens and the continued interest of sponsors and advertisers. The XFL appears to be keeping its expectations for success reasonable. The goal is to complete two seasons before evaluating its strategy and planning for additional seasons.