Great news, fans of professional football that’s a lot weirder than the NFL: the XFL—the league co-owned by Vince McMahon and former NBC head Dick Ebersol—will return in 2020.
That’s the takeaway from a press conference McMahon held on Thursday afternoon, in which he explained that the new league would be lighter on the gimmicks, heavier on the quality-of-play, and shorter on names like “He Hate Me.” The XFL was a downright weird league. It created some innovations in how the game was filmed that carried over to the NFL and NCAA, but also featured players picking their own nicknames for the backs of their jerseys and broadcasters sneaking into cheerleader locker rooms for WWE-style promos. McMahon, in describing the new league, explained that none of that would be on the table. One thing he didn’t explain, though, is where the teams will actually play in the XFL’s 2020 season and beyond.
“We’re ways away from announcing any cities,” McMahon told reporters. That makes sense: finding stadiums, working out sponsorships, and planning to host a professional sports franchise takes time. Here’s something that doesn’t take much time: recklessly speculating on where these teams might play, and whether any of the largest Texas cities would be a good spot for them.
In its initial incarnation in 2002, the XFL presented eight teams in eight cities—and five of them were in places that had no NFL presence. In addition to New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, the league placed teams in Los Angeles, Memphis, Birmingham, Las Vegas, and Orlando. These days, L.A. has two NFL teams, and Vegas may be home to the Raiders by 2020 (their relocation timeline is still a teensy bit uncertain). Assuming the league opts for eight teams again, doesn’t want to compete in a crowded L.A. market that struggles to sell tickets to see the Chargers and the Rams, and doesn’t see much benefit in doubling up in Vegas’s relatively small media market, there are going to be a few new cities on the league’s radar.
While the bidding for XFL teams is unlikely to resemble that of, say, Amazon’s HQ2, we decided to go ahead and assess the viability of Texas’s five largest cities as potential hosts to the new league’s teams.
Why it makes sense: Austin is thirsty as heck for a pro sports franchise—witness the ongoing jockeying for a Major League Soccer franchise—and the city’s cultural cachet gives it a strong argument for hosting basically anything. There’s an infrastructure for big events based on UT football, SXSW, and Austin City Limits, and if the Columbus Crew were to relocate to Austin for the 2019 season, that’d mean that any stadium they built could also host XFL. Austin is the largest American city without a professional sports franchise, and the primetime leagues are unlikely to change that. The XFL, meanwhile, could step in and give the people of Austin something to be proud of. Well, debatably proud.
Why it doesn’t: Football is hot in Austin, but UT is king. Would the university wield its substantial might to ensure that the Longhorns didn’t face competition from McMahon’s batch of misfits? Probably. On top of that, there’s no guarantee that a stadium would be available, or that the XFL would want to set one up somewhere out in the boonies (and, if the civic battles over land for the proposed MLS stadium is any indication, the boonies is where it would be). On top of that, Austin’s a city where people are easily distracted and can be flaky. It’s easy to imagine a half-empty stadium in a city full of people who are looking at their tickets like, “Oh, dag, was that today?”
What the city might say: “Thanks, but we’re saving a spot for the Columbus Crew.”
Potential team names: The Austin Techbros, the Austin Gentrifiers, the Austin Willies
Why it makes sense: Dallas is a huge metropolitan area, and can seemingly support every kind of sports franchise. Did you know there’s a professional hockey team in Dallas? Apparently there is! There’s also an MLB team, an MLS team, a NBA team, a WNBA team, an NFL team, an eSports team, and a team that plays something called “lacrosse.” The more the merrier, Dallas seems to say! On top of that, Jerry Jones’s name was floated as a potential partner by Ebersol back in February 2017, so it seems like a no-brainer.
Why it doesn’t: The Cowboys reign supreme in Dallas, and Jerry Jones likes to keep a tight lid on potential competition. He could own a team, but then put the dang thing somewhere in Arkansas. Also, while Dallas is the nation’s fifth-largest media market, the XFL sat the city out last time, so without any word about a change in strategy, we’re going to assume that competing directly with the NFL in the hometown of America’s Team is probably not in the cards.
What the city might say: “We already have professional football. Try Houston.”
Potential team names: The Dallas Ewings, the Dallas Assassins, the Dallas Bushes
Why it makes sense: Like Austin, El Paso doesn’t have a pro sports franchise, unless you count the AAA minor league team the Chihuahuas. You should—the Chihuahuas are great! Go Chihuahuas!—but the two wouldn’t exactly be competitors. El Paso, while one of the loveliest and most unique cities in the country, also suffers from something of a younger-sibling syndrome when it comes to how it is compared (even by its own residents) to other Texas cities. Hosting an XFL franchise would be a genuine source of civic pride for a city that, right now, defines itself mostly by how many times Khalid says its area code on American Teen.
Why it doesn’t: If you want to make a big splash, well, El Paso is not the splashiest of cities. It is larger than Memphis, Orlando, Birmingham, or Las Vegas, but it doesn’t have the same sort of established football culture as Alabama, or the same gambling infrastructure of Vegas. You can’t entice people to travel for games to El Paso by reminding them that they can also hit up Disneyworld or even Graceland. El Paso is a perennial long shot.
What the city might say: “Vince McMahon knows we exist!”
Potential team names: The El Paso Chihuahuas Part Two, the El Paso Urban Legends Involving Jack Nicholson, the El Paso American Teens
Why it makes sense: Okay, so Houston technically has a professional football team, but if you’re taking a hard look at the Texans, there’s probably room for another. The fourth-largest city in the country is only a little bit smaller than Chicago, which got a team in 2002, and it’s got a much better football culture. Bonus: Maybe they could dust off the Astrodome and finally resolve the problem of what to do with it. Second bonus: We want to read Shea Serrano’s hometown coverage of XFL.
Why it doesn’t: Honestly, this is a tough sell. Houston football fans have had their hearts broken enough that an XFL team would probably win the Million Dollar Game and somehow make everybody feel even worse. If the league were to set up in a Texas market that already has an NFL team, they’d probably pick Dallas. Sorry, Houston.
What the city might say: “Haven’t we been through enough?”
Potential team names: The Houston Harveys (sure to be the XFL’s scariest mascot), the Houston Mattresses, the Houston Bushes
Why it makes sense: As thirsty as Austin is for a sports franchise, they’ve got nothing on San Antonio and its desire to host a pro football team. They missed out on the Raiders, and perennially play the bridesmaid to every city that actually ends up winning an expansion or relocation bid. They’ve got a perfectly acceptable venue right in the heart of downtown in the Alamodome, are the seventh-largest city in America, and have the same younger-sibling-syndrome as El Paso, which means that they’d probably rally around whatever team moved in.
Why it doesn’t: It’s possible that they enter into long, serious negotiations with Vince McMahon and the XFL that fills everybody with enthusiasm and excitement, and then at the last minute they find out that the team decided to set up far away instead.
What the city would say: “Like we told Jeff Bezos, thanks but no thanks.”
Potential team names: The San Antonio Tourists, the San Antonio Bowie Knives, the San Antonio San Antones