The Return of the XFL Highlights the Lack of Support for Women’s Sports

The XFL is back after it failed nearly 20 years ago and lost $70 million — this time it has the financial backing of WWE CEO and chairman Vince McMahon. Meanwhile, the WNBA, NWSL and NWHL have received little support from investors and the media since their individual inceptions.

Bela Kirpalani, Editor-at-Large

In case you missed it, the XFL kicked off its inaugural season this past weekend. If you don’t know what I’m blabbering about, the XFL is a new professional football league that will last 10 weeks from February to April. Its goal is to bring the game into the modern era with new rules and innovations that make football faster and more entertaining for fans.

Except it’s not really a new league. World Wrestling Entertainment CEO and chairman Vince McMahon first launched the XFL in 2001, but due to its bad football, scantily clad cheerleaders and gimmicky WWE elements, ratings plummeted and the league folded in its first season. 

That hasn’t seemed to affect the success of the league’s rebirth in 2020, however. In fact, the revamp of the XFL has been met with even more investment and coverage than before despite its propensity for repeated failure

It’s hard enough for women to be given just one chance to do something new and chase their dreams. When they do, they are met with endless doubters, critics and haters. With the support for the XFL’s second go at the rodeo, it is clear that it is okay for men’s sports to fail, get back up and try again. After all, that’s the difference in the way we treat different genders in this society.

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With the rebirth of the XFL, we are supposed to believe that people will tune in for minor league football, but won’t watch women’s professional sports. As a reminder, 1.12 billion people tuned into the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, WNBA viewership hit 413,000 early in the 2019 season and the 2019 NWSL Championship Game drew its highest numbers in three years with an average of 166,000 viewers.

People clearly tune in, but is the media listening? 

Mainstream media coverage of the XFL has been overwhelmingly positive so far, despite the previous failure of the league in 2001. “This is Not Your Crazy Uncle’s XFL,” read one New York Times headline. Yet getting the Times to hire a beat reporter for the WNBA has yet to happen despite a WNBA team now playing in the Barclays Center. The last time the New York Times wrote about professional women’s softball was in 2016.

When it comes to financial backing, the XFL has that in surplus. McMahon is on record pledging $500 million of his own money to the league’s success. His net worth is also valued at $2 billion, according to Forbes. The average XFL player currently makes $55,000 per year. According to the WNBA’s new CBA, the league will pay players an average of $130,000 per year. One year ago, that number was closer to $75,000.

The XFL has also secured broadcast partnerships with ABC, ESPN, FOX and Fox Sports, ensuring that every game of its 10-week season is aired on national television. Meanwhile, the most-viewed WNBA event didn’t even crack the top-100 most-watched sporting events of 2019. The National Women’s Hockey League only secured a media rights deal in its fourth season as a league — it signed a three-year exclusive live-streaming deal with Twitch ahead of the 2019-20 season.

I want to be clear here: I’m not advocating for the end of the XFL. I mean, I’m not exactly ecstatic about having more of a sport that celebrates players violently hitting each other without care for the consequences of the severe brain damage they incur. But sure, the league sounds cool. (If you are wondering what the X stands for, by the way, the answer is nothing at all.)

I am here to point out that while progress is being made in women’s sports, the priority of investors, general sports fans and the media has always lied in men’s sports. The XFL is just the latest example of this.

The Sports Girl is a weekly sports column that features a girl’s take on sports. Yes, a girl. Yes, on sports.

A version of this article appears in the Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, print edition. Email Bela Kirpalani at [email protected]

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