It probably wouldn't be good to bet against Vince McMahon.
McMahon, the voluble impresario of the World Wrestling Federation, is the "brains" behind the new XFL, a professional football league he says will begin play one year from this month in at least eight cities. Riding the crest of the success of the WWF and to a lesser extent ESPN's "X-games," the initial plans for the new league have received considerable publicity over the past couple of weeks.
It’s easy to dismiss all of this as just another crank publicity gambit by McMahon, who has brought us Rowdy Roddy Piper, Ric Flair and yes, Hulk Hogan and Jesse "the body, now the mind" Ventura.
But given the fact he did "stage" the WWF into a multi-million dollar powerhouse, collectors might want to take note of the XFL for possible future investment.
"Some suggest the NFL stands for No Fun League," McMahon says. "The XFL is going to be the x-tra Fun League. This will be a blast."
Those comments were eerily similar to the ones pronounced by the U.S. Football League (USFL) in the early 1980s, the World Football League (WFL) in the early 1970s and the American Football League (AFL) in the early 1960s. Upstart leagues always try to challenge the existing ones by labeling them as dull, repetitive or boring, while theirs will be exciting, refreshing and new.
The trouble is that new leagues take time -- and lots and lots of money -- to have a chance. The USFL looked promising at first when it signed some big name players for its big city franchises -- most notably Steve Young and Doug Flutie. The league had a television contract and great initial media exposure. However, it fell from the weight of some of those contracts and was gone by the mid-1980s.
But what collector wouldn't want a Young card with the Los Angeles Express or a Flutie jersey from the New Jersey Generals. After the upstart league did fold, this later increased the value of the collectibles, particularly among those who went on to stardom in the established NFL.
When the World Football League (WFL) got its baptism in the 1970s, it was riding the end of a crest of new leagues that took advantage of certain tax breaks that have since been modified or erased completely. Again, the WFL's strategy was to obtain a television contract and lure some of the top NFL players. Two, Jim Kiick and Larry Csonka of the Miami Dolphins, bolted to the new league. But the WFL lacked penetration in the big markets and fans, who had backed the World Hockey Association, American Basketball Association and the AFL, grew tired of the additional football exposure.
Yet again, collectors who purchased cards and memorabilia from the WFL were able to add some unusual items to their collections. For those who value and truly understand the history of a player, picking up the obscure items in a player’s career may make their collection even more unique.
Needless to say, the AFL's nine year run before the merger with the NFL was the success story of new leagues. But the AFL had some big money people behind it -- including the likes of a Lamar Hunt -- a good product, big name superstars (like Joe Namath) and came at a time when the NFL had only 16 teams and was ready for big time expansion. Collectors are all aware of the value of any Jack Kemp, George Blanda or Cookie Gilchrist card from the ‘60s.
Which brings us to McMahon and the XFL. Teams will play in Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, San Francisco, Washington and New York -- all major markets. McMahon figures LA, the second biggest media market, and Orlando, one of the fastest growing areas in the country, will be the key. Average ticket prices will range from $22 to $25 -- less than half of the NFL -- but McMahon is particularly eyeing the television revenues that helped turn his WWF into a marketing and sideshow financial success. Players will have miniature cameras on their helmets, which will be turned on during the huddles. Coaches will be miked, locker rooms will have cameras and the league initially is debating whether to ban fair catches in order to spice up the action.
Will the league be able to survive going up against the NBA, NHL and the start of major league baseball? Will the games be on the level, a complete opposite of the WWF? Will a TV network sign on and will fans watch?
For collectors, the questions may be secondary ones. Other than for curiosity value, collectors may have little interest in the run-of-the-mill NFL reject or mediocre college player who will be on any of the 40-man XFL rosters. But if any name players -- even ones that may be at the end of a professional career -- sign on to McMahon's league, collecting could get very interesting.
That is, if the league is able to get off the ground.
Heck, McMahon could probably raid his own WWF, which has been one of the hotter collecting items of the past five years particularly for younger fans. He could stick them into the tailback or left offensive tackle spot if he needed to. Many of the WWF wrestlers were ex-high school or even ex-college grid participants.
Start-up leagues have been planned in the past and have failed to get a single down played, so collectors should be weary. But McMahon has a great track record in this area and he may be able to get the XFL going for a while, which may be all the time collectors need.