‘This Was the XFL’ Director on How League Was ‘Crucified’ Before It Debuted

“The big mistake of the XFL was the quality of the football,” Charlie Ebersol tells TheWrap

this was the xfl
ESPN Films

“This Was the XFL” documentary director Charlie Ebersol said he was not surprised that the football community was wholly unaccepting of the ill-fated football league.

“I think purists are never going to be comfortable with the type of change that needs to happen,” Ebersol told TheWrap. “Sight unseen, knowing nothing about the league, who was going to be in it or how it was going to work, they were crucified out of the gate. So that speaks to the value and the quality of the marketing that they got 54 million people to tune in that first week.”

Ebersol’s new film is the latest in the ESPN “30 for 30” franchise. It explores how WWE chairman Vince McMahon and Dick Ebersol — the longtime NBC executive and Charlie’s father — sought to upend traditional sports by starting the league in 2001.

Unfortunately, despite an initial burst of success, the league quickly found itself beset by problems on a number of fronts.

“The big mistake of the XFL was the quality of the football,” Ebersol said. “They only had 28 days to practice so the teams didn’t really have time to get together. But the actual experience on television and in the stands was extraordinary. It was all designed for the fans.”

Yet despite only lasting for one season, the documentary smartly points out that the fingerprints of the XFL can be found across professional sports to this day.

“All the technology they created was adopted by the NBA, the NFL, Major League Baseball, and the NHL,” he said, pointing to new camera technology such as the Skycam. “You can’t watch a professional sporting event without seeing the DNA of the league. Secondly, NBC lost $36 million on the XFL. That same year, Fox and CBS both lost over $100 million on the NFL, which is why NBC walked away from the NFL two years earlier.”

“This Was the XFL” premieres Thursday, Feb. 2 at 9 p.m. ET/ 8 p.m. central on ESPN.