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USF Expert Doesn't See Second Professional Football League Succeeding In Tampa

Dec 27, 2018

A second professional football league is supposed to come to Tampa in 2020. But one local sports marketing expert says its likelihood of success isn’t high.

The first version of the XFL, a springtime alternative to the National Football League, was dreamed up in 2001 by World Wrestling Entertainment boss Vince McMahon and the NBC TV network. It shut down after one season and a combined $70 million in losses.

Now, McMahon is trying again on his own, with teams in eight cities, including Tampa.

Bill Sutton, the director of the Vinik Sport & Entertainment Management Program at the University of South Florida Muma College of Business, said a number of things are working against the XFL locally: first, between the Buccaneers and the USF Bulls, there’s an oversaturation of football in the area.

Second, the season will start right after the NFL wraps up.

“The Bucs struggle, USF struggles with attendance, there’s a lot of things to do in Tampa and I think watching football in the spring is not one of them, especially given the access to spring training baseball around here," said Sutton. "I just don’t see it, I don’t see it competing."

Sutton pointed out the Bucs couldn't sell out the almost 66,000-seat Raymond James Stadium this season with higher-quality football players – and he thinks the XFL will have a hard time drawing even half that with a lesser product.

“I think I heard that the number they were hoping for is they were going to sell 20,000 tickets for each game, that was their goal," said Sutton. "I think having 20,000 living, breathing bodies in the stadium, no matter how they get there is still a worthwhile accomplishment.”

“If you tell me, ‘Oh, that’s so-and-so, he used to play for the (University of Florida) Gators,’ well he doesn’t play for the Gators anymore. ‘Oh, that’s so-and-so, he was with the Bucs and he was cut,’ well that probably tells me that’s not how I want to spend my time," he added.

In addition, Sutton said the league will need some sort of broadcast deal, whether it's on TV or the internet.

“A broadcast deal provides credibility; it means that they believe there’s somebody out there that’s interested in following this on a regular basis," he said. 

And there's one more challenge: competition from a rival springtime professional football league.

The Alliance of American Football was founded by former NFL general manager Bill Polian and filmmaker Charlie Ebersol, the son of NBC Sports executive Dick Ebersol, who created the original XFL with McMahon. It's scheduled to begin play in February 2019.

The AAF will also have teams in eight cities, including the Orlando Apollos, which will be coached by former University of Florida coach Steve Spurrier. The league has already signed a TV deal with CBS Sports.

"The AAF has a year-and-a-half head start on the XFL, and the aspiration of that league is to become a developmental league (for the NFL) like the NBA G League, and I can see that (succeeding) for that reason," said Sutton.

The currently unnamed Tampa XFL team is scheduled to start playing in February 2020 in Raymond James Stadium.