- - Wednesday, August 21, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

His XFL franchise had yet to be named and he had been on the job for less than a month. But in April, Washington team president Erik Moses received a sign that his latest venture might resonate among folks in the nation’s capital.

Confirmation came at a business event where the longtime D.C. sports executive bumped into a woman he’s known professionally for more than a decade. After telling her about leaving Events DC for his new job, he says they had a 30-minute conversation about football. “Her excitement about us bringing in this team was surprising and startling, in a good way,” Moses said Wednesday.

Now, 19 months after Vince McMahon announced he was resurrecting the XFL, we know the eight teams’ names. Locally, fans will root for the DC Defenders, whose logo includes a nod to the District flag and will play five home games at Audi Field.

“They drew from a lot of resources, nationally and locally,” Moses said shortly after the league’s live-streamed reveal event. “There was a lot of inspiration for what the nation’s capital represents to the country and the world.”

(“Defenders” will provide a wealth of material for cynics and comics, but we digress. It’s still exponentially better than the name of its NFL counterpart.)



McMahon’s revived XFL also includes the Dallas Renegades, Houston Roughnecks, Los Angeles Wildcats, New York Guardians, St. Louis BattleHawks, Seattle Dragons and Tampa Bay Vipers. The names and logos make clear what McMahon has emphasized from the beginning: Version 2.0 will be a lot less gimmicky and a lot more conservative than the original model.

There’s not a Memphis Maniax, Chicago Enforcers, New York Hitmen or Los Angeles Xtreme among the new bunch, which is more bland than ballsy.

Still, what happens on the field will supersede what’s on the billboard. “Patriots” isn’t particularly creative, but New England fans couldn’t care less. Likewise, no name can surpass “Browns” for boringness, but fans in Cleveland now enjoy recurring and exciting dreams about the Super Bowl.

The eight XFL teams will begin their title chase Feb. 8, 2020, one week after the NFL crowns its champion. McMahon has secured broadcast partners — including Fox, ABC and ESPN — that any startup league would kill for, and he’ll be positioned to address the country’s withdrawal that begins each February.

“We’re not trying to compete with the NFL,” Moses said. “We’re trying to join the football ecosystem, nationally and locally. Our season is right when the NFL concludes and people start to be depressed. But we’ll offer 13 more weeks of high-quality football. We believe spring football has a place in the United States’ sports calendar.”

The Alliance of American Football believed the same thing … and was shuttered in April during its inaugural season.

Moses said the XFL wasn’t rooting against its would-be competitor for spring football fans. But he’s convinced that his league has several advantages, including a two-year ramp up — as opposed to the AAF’s compressed 12 months — and leadership from one of history’s most preeminent sports entrepreneurs.

“With Vince McMahon’s vision and genius in marketing, and the resources he has graciously provided us,” Moses said, “if we can’t get spring football to work, then it doesn’t work.”

Even with the country’s voracious appetite for football, the XFL will have to fight for space in the crowded field of entertainment options. People have limited hours and dollars, both of which are constantly under siege. Football is familiar but the XFL is foreign, competing against well-established alternatives like NBA, college basketball and a host of movies and TV shows.

“We’ll have to earn it to make people root for us, give up time and money, and get their attention,” Moses said. “It’s going to take a lot of effort and a significant amount of time.”

At least he no longer has to refer to the organization as “the Washington XFL franchise.” He met with the newly hired employees in the sales department Wednesday, discussing plans for next month when tickets are available. He’s still trying to secure office space and a practice facility, with Bowie State, Howard, the University of Maryland and The St. James complex among possibilities for the latter.

On the football side, coach Pep Hamilton and his staff continue to evaluate players and prepare for the XFL draft. The market will include talent from NFL training camps, the CFL and the AAF. The league earlier this week announced that former Steelers quarterback Landry Jones was the first player to sign an XFL contract and enter the draft pool.

Moses compared the XFL process to eight startup businesses within a startup business. “It’s like building a plane while flying it,” he said. “Every time I go to league headquarters in Stamford (Connecticut) and look at the big LED screen with the countdown to kickoff, it hits you: Time is not our friend.”

Whose friend?

The Defenders’ friend.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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