There is no such thing as overstating the importance of a high-quality television contract when talking about a new spring outdoor professional football league.
“There isn’t any question that the single biggest component that we have to get done is television,” said Scott McKibben, A11 Football League Chief Executive Officer/Commissioner. “That’s the gas in the tank.”
The three previous spring outdoor pro football leagues – the United States Football League (1983-85), the World League of American Football (1991-92, 1995-97)/NFL Europe (1998-2007) and the XFL (2001) – all had a substantial television presence for most or all of their lives.
- The USFL had the advantage when it was getting its ducks in a row in 1982 of having a fledgling sports cable network (ESPN) that needed more big-time live programming. It also didn’t hurt that USFL Commissioner Chet Simmons was an ESPN executive at one time. Having both a broadcast TV deal (ABC) and a cable deal gave the USFL the weekly exposure it desperately needed, given that it was the first league going into the uncharted territory of playing pro football in a non-traditional time of year. It also had the good fortune of having a lead play-by-play announcer like Keith Jackson during ABC telecasts.
- The WLAF played its first two seasons on two continents and in five countries, and did so on American television with a combo package similar to that of the USFL – a set of games on broadcast (ABC) and a set on cable (USA Network). Easily the biggest name to broadcast early WLAF games was Brent Musburger, and USA Network games were where future broadcasters like Boomer Esiason and Dan Marino cut their teeth. Once the WLAF/NFLE returned after its two-year hiatus, it had a number of broadcast partners, including DirecTV, FX, FOX, FOX Sports Net and NFL Network.
- The XFL was a joint venture partially owned by NBC, so of course it ended up being one of three networks to broadcast games – and the primary broadcast partner. NBC did Saturday-night telecasts (one national and one regional), and both TNN and UPN did Sunday telecasts. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of those telecasts was having Jesse Ventura as a color analyst for national NBC telecasts. Unlike the bigger USFL and the more spread-out WLAF/NFLE, the XFL saw all of its games televised either nationally or regionally.