By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) – The XFL, a short-lived football league that sought to fuse the sport with the over-the-top theatrics of pro wrestling, will return to the gridiron in 2020, World Wrestling Entertainment founder and Chairman Vince McMahon said on Thursday.
McMahon said the XFL, which originally launched in 2001 and lasted only one season, will kick off with eight teams and play a “shorter, faster-paced, family-friendly and easier to understand” brand of the game during the NFL’s offseason.
“It’s still football, but it’s professional football reimagined,” the 72-year-old McMahon told a news conference.
“The new XFL will be fan-centric with all the things you like to see and less of the things you don’t,” he said.
“We’re going to give the game of football back to fans.”
The announcement comes as the NFL has seen a slide in ratings amid controversy surrounding head injuries and player protests against racial inequality and police brutality during the national anthem.
McMahon said the league would consult medical experts to make the game safer, and would seek to keep politics off the field.
“Our league will have nothing to do with politics, absolutely nothing, and nothing to do with social issues either,” he said. “We’re there to play football.”
McMahon also emphasized the importance of players showing character, noting that if a player had a DUI on his record he would be ineligible to play.
The NFL has come under fire in recent years for its handling of players accused of crimes including domestic violence.
McMahon’s announcement gained traction on Twitter with #XFL2020 becoming the top trending hashtag in the United States.
“Well well well, how are you doing over there @VinceMcMahon and @alphaentllc? I see you may be looking for some athletes,” former New York Giants quarterback Jared Lorenzen wrote on Twitter. “I got ya. May be I do have 1 more comeback left me.”
Heisman Trophy winner and former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (@Jmanziel2) tweeted: “#XFL2020 @VinceMcMahon.”
McMahon said the cities for the eight teams would be determined later. He said the league, not individual franchises, will own the teams.
The focus for now would be improving the play on the field, he said, admitting that it had not been good enough to attract fans the first time around.
“Quite frankly we only had a very short time in the past to put everything together,” McMahon said. “Now we have two years to get it right.”
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Daniel Wallis)