Sports Nut

The Madness of XFL Crowds

There’s 3:50 left on the clock before halftime. The home team’s down 18-6, and the other guys have the football. The QB pitches to the running back for a sweep. Fumble. A DB explodes into the flat and recovers on the 15-yard line. Seconds later, a wide receiver catches a floating post, making a leaping end-zone catch before the hometown fans.

But the celebratory fireworks and Slayer riffs are met with a resounding, “Huh?” For the past 20 minutes, all eyes have been ziplocked to Row 27, where three busty and intoxicated young women are grinding to the beat of DMX and occasionally lifting their shirts. Quick snaps of heads and raised fists. Touchdown. Now back to the girls. Fans employ binoculars. The girls look pleased. Football? Really? Where?

So it went for the roofers and retailers who make up the Chicago Enforcers and L.A. Xtreme of the XFL. Their game went into double overtime with the Xtreme winning 39-32. Only at the end did anyone notice. While the XFL is certainly reeling from four weeks of TV-ratings freefall, the league faces a larger problem with its paying fans. As boring as the XFL is on television, it’s even less interesting live.

At least the football part, that is. Frequent flashing, fighting, drunkenness, and bottle throwing will keep you on the edge of your seat. Who cares about football if you can catch an eyeful or get punched hard in the face? If you’re looking for a poorly organized riot, the XFL might be right up your alley. By the end of the night, you too will be wishing you’d brought a helmet to the game.

The XFL is a made-for-TV animal. Paying fans don’t appear to be as important to the league as a Nielsen family that turns on the game rather than a weekend movie. Mean camera angles? Helmet mikes? Sure, if you bring along a television. But you don’t get that for plunking down $50 for a prime seat at an XFL game. Unlike wrestling, XFL games aren’t staged, so you can’t very well have the home team’s huddle broadcast over the public address system. There isn’t even a halftime show. Right now, fans watch the televised locker-room halftimes, exactly what viewers are turning off at home. This leaves the fans watching “regular guys” playing “regular football” with none of the bells and whistles promised if they’d just stayed home and watched for free.

Vince McMahon and his minions tried to offer something resembling a family outing at the Los Angeles Coliseum: plenty of league merchandise, an appearance by The Rock, cotton candy, kettle corn, turkey dogs, golf club demonstrations, dunking tanks, and dinner reservations at the stadium’s House of Blues. But the league also had a covert plan. Fill all fans to the brim with beer, put strippers in a hot tub behind one end zone, and captivate them with 10 nubile dancers until they don’t even notice the mediocre play.

The result? Something you won’t ever see on the XFL’s network TV broadcasts: a football game where a strip club broke out. With two elevated stages on one 20-yard line, the cheerleaders are the real stars of the game. The XFL might soon become the first league where tickets near its sultry dancers cost more than seats at midfield.

But what does this mean for “All Access” football? For now, the XFL is that rare sports outing where fans feel more involved in the action at home than 50 yards away.

In order to provide an exemplary product, the XFL needs to create a sports-centered environment. The alternative happened the other Saturday, a bona fide circus sideshow.

One fan, a 46-year-old paraplegic and die-hard sports fanatic, brought his nephews to the Coliseum because the teen-agers love the WWF and had never been to a pro football game. By the third quarter, with beer flowing, women flashing, and fans angling for a view of the girls, the fan and his wheelchair were caught in the crossfire of a violent drunken skirmish. Seconds later, he was pushed headfirst into a concrete walkway 6 feet below. Lying in a puddle of his own blood, with multiple gashes and a black eye, he had beer and garbage thrown on him until paramedics arrived. (He’s now recovering nicely.)

It’s hard to imagine behavior so bad anywhere in the NFL, even at an Oakland Raiders game. As rowdy as Raiders fans are, at least they’re passionate about their team.