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Television Deal Ended the First XFL in 2001

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NFL Hall of Famer Dick Butkus, center, talks to reporters Wednesday, July 19, 2000, in Chicago after Vince McMahon, chairman of the World Wrestling Federation, right, announced that Butkus would coach Chicago's XFL football team. Photo: Charles Bennett | AP Photo

By Evan Weiner |

On May 10, 2001, Vince McMahon announced that his football creation, the XFL, was closing up shop. There are two versions of why the league folded and both have to do with TV. McMahon claimed that he had TV deals for 2002 despite the fact that his partner NBC could not commit to airing games in February of 2002 because of the Winter Olympics. Still there were agreements with UPN and TNN for the 2002 season. But McMahon shut down because UPN said it wanted to run just one hour of McMahon’s WWE Smackdown two hour show if UPN was to put the XFL on its network. McMahon said no. That ended things.

But there is another story. It was not until late in the 2001 season when the XFL fell off the map when football people took over the product. NBC personnel that decided to give the league a wrestling-like persona The XFL might have lasted into season two, 2002, had Ken Schanzer and NBC not pulled the plug. According to one XFL official, Mike Keller, who was present at the end, he said everyone acknowledged that the league had lost some $50 million but ESPN had interest in picking up the programming for 2002. TNN would have returned. UPN had dropped out but ESPN’s interest would have more than made up for losing the weak UPN network. But according Keller, Schanzer, a senior sports executive at NBC, pulled the plug. Keller did not know if Schanzer acted on his own or if a higher positioned NBC executive made the call.  NBC did not want the XFL, which it partially owned, didn’t on a competitor, ESPN. The league disappeared leaving football people stewing both in the NFL and XFL. McMahon wanted to keep going according to Keller. The XFL is a mere footnote in football history but it’s coming back.

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, Evan Weiner.

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