POV: XFL gaining popularity in the U.S., Utica coaches consider it beneficial to football


Members of the Houston Roughnecks team on the field. Photo courtesy of Evan Willsmore, Houston Roughnecks reports. Twitter: @Evan_Willsmore

Andres Jaime-Mendez, Contributing Writer

The revamped XFL has taken the U.S. by storm in 2023, showing millions around the country that football can be more than just a sport.

The XFL, which does not have any specific word or meaning associated with its name, is a high-level professional American football minor league. It had its inaugural season in 2001, and later relaunched before the pandemic in 2020. The 2023 season marks the third edition of the league, with viewers looking to see how this version develops, according to sportingnews.com

While the league has been able to bring in more former NFL and top talent, most notably wide receiver Josh Gordon and quarterback A.J. McCarron, the features that have made this bigger than just football have been the rule changes and the differentiation that has been created. 

Evan Willsmore, an XFL News Hub journalist covering the Houston Roughnecks, spoke to The Tangerine and said the development of the XFL has combined the original feel of the league with new improvements. 

“I think they’ve done a good job carrying over the original product,” Willsmore said. “Now it’s a more tangible product, and it’s more professional.” 

A big change that has happened is the new ownership of the XFL, with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his business partner Dany Garcia leading and taking over the league’s operations.

“The ownership adds a new element,” Willsmore said. “The Rock has incorporated more of his brand into the league and people are really gravitating towards him.” 

To go along with this new branding, university professors in the areas of sports management and sports marketing have taken a look at the expansion of football in America and how the XFL’s product has developed. 

Utica University sports management and marketing professor Moonsup Hyun said in order for the NFL to have a competitor, there must be a few things that the new entity achieves and does. 

“The ways for the XFL to compete with the NFL is to make games accessible, have good players and have an effective positioning strategy through rule changes,” Hyun said. 

The positioning strategy for the XFL is through changing the rules because this makes it an actual alternative to the NFL, the Utica professor explained. This helps to differentiate the product physically through changing the rules of the sport, he said.

The XFL has expanded the football market because if you have only $20, you can now enjoy high-quality football. Before if you only had $20, you could not watch football because NFL tickets are $100 or more. 

Willsmore agreed with Hyun on the importance for the XFL to differentiate its product and attempt to tap into a new market. 

“It comes down to innovation, the rule changes alter the flow to the game,” Willsmore said. “They are still their unique product.”

This unique product described by Willsmore is something Utica Football quarterbacks coach Braeden Zenelovic agrees is a major draw for fans interested in the league, specifically stating that mic’d up playcallers allow an inside look into what goes on behind the scenes.

Zenelovic has a friend who plays for the Houston Roughnecks, the team Willsmore reports for, so there are even personal connections to the Houston franchise here in Utica. Zenelovic sees the XFL as a “bounceback” league where players can get a chance to prove themselves after being on an NFL practice squad for some time. 

Utica’s outside linebackers coach Christian Legagneur sees the application of the league in a similar manner to Zenelovic, viewing the XFL as a way to improve his coaching and be able to help Utica football players.

“It (XFL) serves as an intimate setting,” Legagneur said. “You can compare the players and show our guys (Utica) how these guys are professionals and are making the same mistakes you’re making.”

As the league continues to grow and cities across the country watch the XFL even more, the size of the fanbase will become even larger.

Coach Zenelovic and Coach Legagneur summed up the potential future for the XFL in the market for American football: The NFL needs to absorb the league, and it can be kind of how the NBA has a G-League. Overall, it’s just a great way to keep football in the States.