In building the league, Luck said he drew back on his extensive history as a sports executive, especially his experience working for NFL Europe. Luck helped launched a team in the league, and later served as NFL Europe president.
But like many other efforts to launch spring football leagues, NFL Europe folded in 2008.
However, unlike those other leagues, the XFL feels like it has put itself in a position to succeed – in large part due to the efforts that Luck and his team have put in ensuring the on-field product is as good as possible.
Luck spoke with Front Office Sports about getting the league off the ground, how he is judging success, and why this version of the XFL will be different than those other spring football attempts.
Front Office Sports: How do you measure the success of the first season of the XFL?
Oliver Luck: I always use the old phrase from the late U.S. Supreme Justice Potter Stewart when he was asked about his threshold test for obscenity – “I know it when I see it.” I think we’ll all know if this is good football or not. It’s not that every play that has to be good, but you know what a good game is and what isn’t. That’s at the top of the pyramid for me. We need to play good football that people can get excited about.
FOS: What is something you have prioritized in the build-up?
Luck: I want to make sure that everything we’re doing for our players is up to snuff. We’re not a college where we have our campus and our stadium and our locker rooms, or even an NFL team that has its own facilities. We’re borrowing, if you will, from municipalities, teams, universities, or in some cases we’re training at high schools. Granted, it’s Texas-style high school facilities, but we want to make sure we are treating our players as the professionals that they are. That means in terms of medical care, the food, the organization, the charter flights. That’s important. That elevates their level of play as well.
FOS: When week one arrives, what’s your biggest concern?
Luck: The weather. Obviously, in [New York] and Washington D.C., it can get a bit dodgy this time of year. We know it will be fine in Los Angeles, and it’ll probably be 45 degrees and rainy in Seattle, which is fine too. Tampa will be fine, and across Texas also. St.Louis is indoors. But obviously, we have to worry about a Nor’ easter coming through and dropping seven inches of snow on MetLife [Stadium]. But that might be a fun game to watch – I always loved the games where they have to shovel to see the lines.
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FOS: The XFL is introducing several new rules and game enhancements that are different from the NFL and college football – do you think that will help attract fans?
Luck: In our market research, it showed that 80 million people say ‘yes, I like football.’ About half of those fans self-describe themselves as passionate die-hards – that there is a hole in their life after the Super Bowl. We’re appealing to those fans, and that’s the group we want to wrap our arms around. I think people will be interested in our innovations, and perhaps they’ll watch with a heightened sense of interest to see the different kickoff, or how allowing blocks three yards downfield looks. But ultimately, our obligation is to play good, fun, competitive football. At the end of the day, with or without these innovations, we still have first, second, third down, guys still catch passes and punts, make blocks and do all those things that people like to watch. So we’re proud of the innovations and think they’re neat, and we think they’ll help us play a fast, up-tempo game. But I don’t think that alone will make the league a massive success.
FOS: In hindsight, are you happy with the decision to launch so close to the end of the NFL season?
Luck: I was on a radio show recently, and someone said they felt a despondency after the Super Bowl. We hopefully are the antidote for that. I think we have as good an opportunity as anyone who has been in the spring football space. There have been a lot, and as you know, they’ve all eventually failed. So we’ve got our mountain to climb, but we’ve got a good start on it.