Don't bet against McMahon
By Bob Raissman
Appeared in the New York Daily News, Sunday, February 4, 2000
On the occasion of Vince McMahon rolling out his plan for a new
professional football league — known as the XFL — the WWF impresario
was asked if he was going legit.
"May I never, ever be thought of as legit," McMahon
said. "Anything but that."
The tone was strikingly similar to one of McMahon's WWF stars,
Chris Jericho, aka Y2J. It is fitting in the second month of the
new century, McMahon, a fellow who has often been linked to the
decline of western civilization, is starting a new football league.
And it was clear, as he answered questions from those in attendance
at his new WWF eatery, McMahon doesn't give a damn what anyone
thinks about his plan.
When one gentleman informed McMahon that a couple of Wall Street
firms, after hearing about the XFL launch, downgraded the WWF
stock, the wrestling boss pulled a page out of Stone Cold Steve
"They can kiss my ass," McMahon shot back.
The answers didn't disappoint anyone who views McMahon from a
purely black and white perspective. Breaking him down is not simple.
McMahon bristled at the notion he was somehow already not "legit."
He said this would mean what he does now is illegitimate, explaining
the success of the WWF as an entertainment property — in terms
of TV ratings and revenues — voids that characterization.
"But in terms of my personal perception, I am who I am,"
McMahon said after the press conference. "I'm a bit of a
renegade, but a damn good businessman. I'm never going to go legitimate
in terms of the perception of me personally, or sellout, as the
case may be."
No, this new football league ain't about McMahon's desire to
someday be compared to the NFL's founding fathers. Like any other
sports venture the goal is the same — money. Big money. And it
has nothing to do with kicking the NFL's butt either.
McMahon has already achieved that — big-time. His Monday night
"Raw is War" cablecasts on USA Network have eaten in
to a young demographic coveted by the NFL and the ABC Sports suits
who televise "Monday Night Football." There is no end
in sight to that trend.
Now, what McMahon is attempting to do is take a dead sports period
— February-April — where general TV viewership is high, and use
the Super Bowl as a table-setter for his own football league.
Already there are skeptics. Yesterday, all these sports financial
analysts were calling around town looking to peddle quotes on
why the XFL will fail.
McMahon envisioned this script.
"I love it. I love the long odds, absolutely," McMahon
said. "That's what I'm all about all my life. Everyone is
skeptical. I even expect people to say, 'Oh my God no. The World
Wrestling Federation in pro football — oh no!' I don't care what
they say because the public understands us."
That's why this thing has a chance. McMahon already has a built-in
fan base, a very loyal fan base that no other fledgling football
league could count on.
He also can count on football junkies who are looking for something
to watch before NFL Draft day hits. Most importantly, McMahon
knows how to make his TV product look like an event, especially
to viewers between the ages of 12 and 24.
The nationally televised XFL games will likely air on Sunday
night, probably on UPN (Ch. 9 here). They won't have much sports
competition. The trick will be catching the channel surfers and
getting them to stick with the XFL.
To that end, McMahon has brought in Mike Weisman, the former
executive producer of NBC Sports. He is a true innovator. Weisman
will have complete freedom during XFL telecasts, which means he
will be placing microphones and cameras anywhere he wants — including
in the huddle.
Between now and when the XFL debuts in 2001, many football purists
will be hammering the concept. Some will be football writers.
Others will come from the NFL establishment. The louder they yell
— the more they sound like McMahon's critics — the better his
chances to succeed.
How do I know this? I've seen this script before.