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Across The XFL: Stadium Changes, Potential Relocation, Cardale Jones Star Fading, Local Media Coverage

@MMXFLWriter

STADIUM CHANGES/POTENTIAL RELOCATION?

Last week in this column, issues were raised about the stadium choices of N.Y., Tampa, and L.A., and the potential attendance issues moving forward. 

This past weekend at MetLife, a stadium that seats over 82,000. The New York Guardians produced an attendance figure of 12,116. The L.A. Wildcats had just over 12k at their second home game at Dignity Park in Carson, California. The Tampa Bay Vipers had 12,249 fans in attendance for their second home game of the season. 

Based on early projections, the XFL expected these three particular markets to average anywhere from 10-14k per game. So from that respect, these numbers are in line.

The issue from an aesthetic standpoint is the overall size of Tampa and New York’s playing venues. With LA, it is more of a question of the actual location in Carson, rather than the size of Dignity Park. 

SportBusiness.com interviewed Oliver Luck about the XFL’s attendance and venue choices. In the article, the XFL CEO stated that the league would re-examine team venues at the end of the season. The XFL would prefer that their teams play in mid-sized stadiums, similar to TDECU in Houston. Here is a quote from the article. 

“We will take stock at the end of the season and see what makes the most sense [in regards to stadium size],” Luck said. “In a place like Houston, where we are averaging 18,000 crowds, filling up the lower bowl…that size stadium of 38,000 gives you an opportunity for a big crowd, whether that is a championship game or a playoff game. You don’t get that when your capacity is tapped out at 19,000 or 20,000 or whatever it is in a typical MLS building. But all in all, I think we are pleased with where we are.”

Initially, the XFL looked into Red Bull Arena as the location for their New York franchise and came very close to selecting it. Ultimately, the league’s founder and owner, Vince McMahon, chose MetLife because of the cache and business relationship, that McMahon has had with the venue in recent years.  

The Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, will be in consideration again. However, the indication that I have received is that the league’s owner is committed to MetLife. 

The move from East Rutherford, New Jersey to Harrison would keep the team in state. There are many fans however that wish for the Guardians to play in New York, but venue availability is an issue.

As for The Wildcats. One of the venues that the league considered initially is Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles. The stadium’s primary tenant is L.A. FC (MLS). The 22,000 seat venue is ideally located. The issue, however, is getting MLS tenants to agree to have pro football played on their fields. It is certainly not an easy task. Unlike New York and Los Angeles, the Tampa Bay Vipers do not have a viable venue alternative.

One of the things that signal instability for a new sports league is immediate relocation. Pro Football Leagues of the past, like the USFL/UFL, went down this path with very little success.  

The XFL chose L.A. and Tampa for several reasons. They are both top tier T.V. markets. In an eight-team league, tv viewership matters. The XFL does not have the benefit of having 30 plus markets watching games like other established leagues have. L.A. and Tampa were also chosen because they are warm-weather sites. A bonus for a football league that plays in February. 

However, a strong argument can be made that L.A. would be best suited in San Diego or the Bay-Area (Oakland/San Jose/San Fran). At the same time, Tampa may be better served in Orlando instead. Orlando was undoubtedly a market that the XFL would have considered if not for the existence of the Apollos in the AAF at the time. The same goes for L.A. The XFL had talks with Oakland in the early stages of choosing a location, but talks broke off due to that cities demands. San Diego could also have been an option to replace the Chargers, but the AAF launched the Fleet. 

The Guardians, Vipers, and Wildcats all have three remaining home games at their respective locations. It is fair to wonder and speculate if the teams will be playing their final home games at those particular venues. 

CARDALE JONES STAR FADING

Quarterback Cardale Jones is on the verge of losing his teammates and his starting job with the D.C. Defenders. What a difference two weeks can make.  

Cardale Jones started the XFL season red hot, leading his team to two straight opening wins. Pro Football Focus had Cardale graded as the league’s best overall player. 

 In the opening two weeks, Jones completed 62 percent of his passes, had over 500 yards of offense, with four scores, and only one turnover.

In the last two weeks, Cardale Jones has completed only 45 percent of his passes (22/48) for just 175 yards, with 0 touchdowns and five interceptions. 

In the Defenders latest road drubbing, a 25-0 loss at the hands of the then winless Tampa Bay Vipers. The broadcast on ESPN 2 not only displayed Cardale and the Defenders’ struggles on the field. But, through the XFL’s unprecedented access. Viewers got a glimpse into the inner-workings of D.C.’s recent demise on offense.

Cardale Jones displayed poor body language from the outset of the game. Something noted immediately by Joey Galloway during the telecast. Cardale’s actions on the field and the sidelines made headlines. Last Sunday night, Cardale went as far as calling for the benching of rookie receiver DeAndre Thompkins. 

The issues that D.C. has had on offense does not fall squarely on just the shoulders of Cardale. Head Coach and offensive play-caller Pep Hamilton needs to get his players on the same page as well.  

In Cardale’s defense, the issue with Cardale has never been physical talent. It has always been about his lack of maturity and experience. 

Cardale Jones now has only four career pro starts. The 27-year-old has never been in this position before. 

Cardale Jones turned down NFL practice squad offers to join the XFL. The reasoning behind his decision was clear. He wanted to finally get the opportunity to be a starting quarterback and a leader on the pro level.  

A role that Cardale is struggling to handle at the moment. If Jones continues to regress, for the betterment of the team, Pep Hamilton may have to sit him. The Defenders staff is pondering such a move if things do not get pointed in the right direction. DC (2-2) is at home this Sunday. They face the (3-1) St. Louis BattleHawks with first place in the east at stake. 

REASSIGNING THE XFL’S ASSIGNED QUARTERBACKS  

After four weeks, the XFL has had mixed results with their assigned quarterbacks. It goes beyond just Cardale Jones.

The league’s first-ever signed player, Landry Jones missed all of Renegades training camp with a knee injury, and just recently reaggravated that same injury last weekend against Houston. The Renegades hope to get Landry back on the field in a few weeks. The truth is that Landry’s rust has shown, and his on-field performance has been mostly inconsistent. 

Matt McGloin was the Guardians assigned Quarterback in the fall. His tenure thus far as the team leader has not gone as planned. A meltdown in week two and an injury has him fighting to get his job back. Luis Perez, the Wildcats original assigned Quarterback, is the player that McGloin will be fighting to get his job title back from. Perez led the Guardians to victory last weekend against the player who replaced him, Josh Johnson, and his former team L.A.

Brandon Silvers has been wildly inconsistent for the Seattle Dragons. Seattle lacks talent at the receiver position, and backup BJ Daniels seems like a more logical fit for the Dragons struggles on offense. Daniels provides an added dimension that Silvers cannot. 

The Vipers Aaron Murray, a local Tampa player, has seemingly lost his starting job to rookie Taylor Cornelius. 

The two assigned quarterbacks who have exceeded expectations thus far are Houston’s PJ Walker and the BattleHawks Jordan Ta’amu. The two early front-runners for league MVP. 

LOCAL MEDIA COVERAGE

The case can be made that the success of the XFL’s eight franchises is directly tied into the level of sports media coverage it has received locally.

The print media, sports radio shows and local media coverage work in unison, unknowingly, and in some cases knowingly as unofficial ticket offices for local sports teams. If you are not a part of the ‘major’ sports leagues, you are hard-pressed to get any print on your team or get any mentions on the radio or television. Established leagues like MLS, WNBA and others also go through this. The XFL as a new league is no exception.

The top two teams in the XFL in attendance are the St. Louis BattleHawks and Seattle Dragons. Part of that has to do with how the local media has treated those two franchises.

The BattleHawks do not get the attention in St. Louis that the Blues or Cardinals get, but it has been very positive for a new team in a brand new league. Team President Kurt Hunzeker and his staff have done a great job connecting with the local community and selling the BattleHawks as a St. Louis born football team.

The local T.V. market in Seattle has been very kind to the XFL. Dragons Team president Ryan Gustafson has also done a great job being an ambassador for the franchise. It does not hurt that the Dragons have local legend Jim Zorn as their head coach. Seattle is one of the best and open-minded sports markets in the country and a perfect fit for the XFL.

The local coverage for Houston and Dallas has been a mixed bag thus far. Despite having two of the XFL’s most high profile teams, these Texas cities have only dipped their toes into the waters for these two franchises, rather than dive right in. 

The local coverage has not been as dismissive as some of the league’s other markets. Considering that Texas is football country, The Renegades and Roughnecks should be getting more notice.

The coverage of the D.C. Defenders in the ‘DMV’ has not been a wait in line forever process, but it has been very fair. Playing in D.C. has been a big help. Erik Moses has strong ties to the region, and Coach Pep Hamilton is one of their own. The teams’ recent struggles may affect how D.C. responds to the Defenders moving forward, but to this point. The local media has given the franchise a shot.

The three markets that have received very little love or notice locally are the Tampa Bay Vipers, Los Angeles Wildcats, and the New York Guardians.

In New York, most of the media members are dismissive and snobbish towards the XFL’s existence. The Guardians are not a topic of discussion, nor are they written about or discussed. From time to time, the local papers will write a six sentence recap of a Guardian game online.

In week one, there was some notice and attention paid towards the Guardians in the local media. New York Head Coach Kevin Gilbride was invited on local radio shows. Still, it was more for his expertise on Eli Manning and his recent retirement than as a vehicle to discuss the Guardians. There is very little interest from the local New York radio and print media for the Guardians.

Los Angeles is probably the most challenging market to get any attention from the public or media. The Wildcats are competing against everything and the sun when it comes to getting fans to come to their games. The L.A. market has some of the same closed-minded qualities that the New York media possesses. The XFL is treated as a fringe league. So the local coverage has matched that type of treatment. 

The Tampa market is a curious one. Despite the great weather, the local teams do not get the same type of support at the gate that pro teams in other markets do. It is why despite the mass market size of Tampa, some people around the country consider Tampa a second-class citizen sports market. 

The most persuasive argument against the XFL’s choice of their current eight markets is going to cities where the local media will treat the teams as a big deal. Thus far, Seattle and especially St. Louis have done just that. 

The one thing that can change things in the other XFL markets is public demand. Gaining and earning respect and attention from the media when you are a new league, is no simple task. The XFL has undoubtedly done the right things, but they will have to work a little extra harder in some of their toughest markets to get noticed. It won’t be built in a day or just one season, that’s for sure.

I'm a lifelong football fan. A credentialed reporter and writer as well. Despite being an ardent College and NFL fan for over three decades. I've also covered and followed alternative football leagues intensely. Like the USFL, WLAF, NFL Europe, AAF, UFL, and of course, the XFL.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Ken

    March 5, 2020 at 2:10 pm

    It would make sense to probably move the Vipers to Orlando and take advantage of the distance between Orlando and the other major cities in Florida. The Apollos did well in the AAF. I would also move the Wildcats to San Diego or Oakland. But I wouldn’t move any other franchise at least not after the first season. New York could possibly go across the Hudson to Jersey for a smaller Stadium and still retain the Guardians name with New York

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