For any lacrosse fans that happened to tune into a broadcast of the opening weekend of the revived XFL, they would have immediately noticed some familiar segments during the games that you might have also seen during Premier Lacrosse League and National Lacrosse League games in the past year.
Football fans praised the transparency of the XFL as fans could hear from players right after a play in sideline interviews, listen in on mic’d up coaches calling plays, and follow along as officials talk over flags or incomplete passes, but lacrosse fans already know what that intimate in-game experience is like.
So from what I’m seeing…Vince McMahon watched a lot of @PremierLacrosse this summer?
— Brendan Burke (@brendanmburke) February 8, 2020
Did the XFL take notes from what the PLL and NLL have already been doing in their broadcasts?
I would love to think so and it’s definitely possible, but every sports league does a mic’d up segment now and the idea of in-game interviews has surely been debated by friends at the bar or by executives at league offices for years. NASCAR already has mics inside of drivers’ cars for fans to listen in.
They aren’t new ideas, but the NLL has made progress and the PLL revolutionized what was possible for in-game access to players and coaches last summer. With the amount of exposure the PLL got on NBC and social media, I’m sure someone at the XFL saw a clip and knew they had to try it for their broadcasts too.
It wasn’t always perfect, but commentators Ryan Boyle and Brendan Burke had the ability to talk to players on the field right after they scored a goal, made a save, or after a bad play and it made for some incredible sound bites. The most memorable was Trevor Baptiste and his now iconic “That’s Speed Boi” moment after scoring a goal with his mic hot the whole time. Barstool Sports even tweeted the clip out and it has racked up over 650,000 views.
Live mic’d up players? Maybe this is the sport of the future pic.twitter.com/Ma2NZi8fGd
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) August 26, 2019
The XFL hasn’t tried to pull off any interviews with players right before a snap yet, but as the season progresses maybe they’ll start asking Cardale Jones who he’s going to throw to as the DC Defenders get into the Red Zone.
They did adopt sideline interviews with players as soon as they got off the field, and were not afraid to ask anyone and everyone about a previous play.
The Defenders missed a field goal that would have tied the game.
— ESPN (@espn) February 8, 2020
Bill Shea of The Athletic dissected the good and bad of the XFL’s first weekend in his article, “I watched the XFL so you don’t have to (but you should!): 12 quick takeaways,” and expressed similar thoughts about the in-game interviews as lacrosse analysts and fans did after the first weekend of the PLL.
“Sideline reporter Dianna Russini spent three hours madly chasing players and coaches on the sidelines for in-game live interviews, which is a fascinating concept and included at least one F-bomb that was faster than the network censor. My sense is that ABC/ESPN need to be more tactical with such segments. There will be more F-bombs, and eventually some player or coach may say something unfortunate in the heat of the game. It’s a razor’s edge between a great soundbite and an intrusion.”
The XFL also incorporated access to the conversations going on between referees and the control room during reviews, which the NLL has already been doing since moving their broadcasts to Bleacher Report Live in 2018.
Fans watching NLL broadcasts on B/R Live can follow along with what the head referee is looking for as the control room shows him the available camera angles. It’s an amazing inside look to how difficult it can be for refs to make a crease call live and the commentators can also follow along to better explain what transpired. Fans can’t complain as much when refs overturn a call because they saw exactly what the refs did.
Goal or no goal? Take a listen to NLL referee Ian Garrison behind the scenes reviewing the goal
— NLL (@NLL) April 6, 2019
On the XFL broadcasts, they let fans listen in on the dialogue about a play review, but also showed the actual control room where officials were reviewing the plays for the referees on the field and then relayed to them if the call was good or needed to be reversed.
The referees on the field didn’t have to review the plays themselves and I actually really like this system. The control room can be looking at the replay immediately and relay the correct call down to the field without the head referee, who is catching his breath and having to switch focus from the game to a screen, to make the decision. The NLL and PLL could take from the XFL’s book to help shorten the time it takes to review plays.
Get an inside look during @XFL2020 games 👀
Watch the conversation between the replay official and the on-field referee as they review a call on the field ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/0M4Ozz7tmJ
— XFL on FOX (@XFLonFOX) February 9, 2020
The XFL also dabbled in displaying betting odds during the broadcasts on Fox and ABC, and with the NLL forming gambling partnerships and the PLL looking to incorporate it as well, adding that to their broadcasts could be another way to draw in fans.
Disruption is the name of the game for the XFL just like it was for the PLL in their inaugural season. They’re not only trying to attract audiences with more access to the players and coaches during the broadcast than ever before, but also with new rules to make a game like football that people are so used to watching more exciting. There is already talk that the NFL should adopt the XFL’s kickoff rule just as lacrosse fans want the PLL’s shortened field, faceoff rules, and 52 second shot clock to be adopted at other levels.
It might be foolish to compare any NFL vs XFL debates to those going on between the MLL vs PLL because the two sports are obviously on completely different levels of popularity, but I think it’s fair to say that both sports are doing everything they can to produce a better product for their fans and to attract new ones.
It’s too early to tell if the XFL will thrive or suffer the same fate that the Alliance of American Football (AAF) suffered last year, but after one weekend it looks promising and they will need to continue having exciting broadcasts to survive.
The XFL may or may not have drawn from the PLL or NLL for their broadcasts, but it’s fun and encouraging to think that professional football was inspired by lacrosse.