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WWE CEO McMahon to kick off 're-imagined' pro football league XFL in 2020

During a Jan. 25 press conference, World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon announced that he would bring back an updated version of the pro football league XFL in 2020.

The eight-team circuit, featuring 40-man rosters, will play a 10-game regular season followed by playoffs, kicking off following the close of the NFL's Super Bowl. The games will be quicker, perhaps two hours in length in sharp contrast to NFL and college football games that press toward and sometimes exceed 3.5 hours.

McMahon did not identify potential markets and he said the league has yet to initiate conversations with potential distribution partners. He said the games would likely be presented in a combination of traditional and digital platforms, likely with social media elements.

Like the original XFL, the new league will trade on a single-entity-controlled structure in which all teams are owned by the league rather than via a franchise set-up.

The re-imagined XFL marks McMahon’s second attempt to establish a pro football league. The original XFL was a joint venture between WWE (then known as the WWF) and NBC (US), with McMahon and Dick Ebersol, the former head of NBC Sports and long-time TV executive, leading the charge. With ratings dropping precipitously after a surprisingly strong start, the XFL never advanced past its rookie season in 2001.

This time around McMahon is funding the league on his own: he set up Alpha Entertainment by selling shares of WWE stock in December 2017. The initial investment is some $100 million.

McMahon emphasized throughout the press conference that the WWE will not be involved in any way, saying "there will be no crossover whatsoever." Asked specifically, he said that pertains to the use of wrestlers and grappling circuit announcers, as well as funding, saying the $100 million is a little rich for the WWE. Presumably, that also applies to streaming service, WWE Network as well.

Asked if there is enough appetite to support a new league — the proliferation of telecasts of NFL, college, Canadian Football League and Arena Football League action has been cited as one of the reasons football ratings are declining — McMahon said there is demand because football is played seven months of the year.

With a simplified rules structure, the reborn XFL also has an eye toward cultivating an international audience, many of whom may not be able to grasp the byzantine NFL rule book that has left many Stateside fans perplexed and irate about among other things, what does and does not constitute a catch.

Although not detailing the changes, McMahon said the game would be "re-imagined on all levels." McMahon, who will retain his duties heading the WWE, said he won’t be out in front of the relaunched football circuit like he was last time.

McMahon was asked about whether or not President Donald Trump would be supportive of the league and whether his latest pigskin gambit was a reaction to the national anthem protests that have permeated the conversation around the NFL season and likely led to its declining audiences. "As far as our league is concerned, it will have nothing to do with politics and nothing to do with social issues," McMahon said.

Later he noted players would have to abide a set of regulations in order to play, and that it would not open its doors to those with arrest records. McMahon even tossed around the term "family-friendly.”

That would be in sharp contrast to the original XFL, which espoused an outsider's stance. Promising a harder-hitting style than the NFL — the games began with two players charging for the pigskin at the 50-yard-line to determine the kickoff winner — the league also included appearances by wrestlers and some titillating narratives with cheerleaders.

After strong ratings at the outset, the XFL was tackled by technical difficulties, uninspired play on the field, and ultimately plummeting ratings. NBC, which had made a two-year commitment, punted after the league's rookie season.