Butkus Believes XFL Had Bad Marketing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The impression at times has been that the XFL is more about cheerleaders in the stands and strippers in hot tubs than it is about football.

The XFL encouraged that sort of thinking when the league hit the scene, but it irritates the league's football people, who say that's not what the XFL is all about.

And there are plenty of football people in the XFL. Dick Butkus is a top executive, and nobody is more "football" than Butkus, the Chicago Bear hall of fame linebacker. His title is director of competition.

Butkus stopped by Veterans Stadium in Long Beach on Thursday to watch the Xtreme practice for Saturday's game against the Las Vegas Outlaws at the Coliseum.

"The players are the thing I like best about the league," Butkus said. "You don't have any wide receiver making $5 million a year complaining he's not getting enough touches. These guys are all making roughly the same, they're all in this together. They get more if they win, and I love that.

"These guys are playing for the love of the game, the way it used to be. And some of them are playing for a shot at the NFL. I think three or four players per team will get that shot."

So why wasn't the league marketed as an alternative to the NFL, a league made up of young guys trying to get a shot at the big time? Instead, it was marketed as better, nastier and meaner than the NFL.

"The marketing people didn't talk to the football people," Butkus said. "The league, in a way, was over-marketed. It couldn't deliver."

Butkus knows about the disastrous ratings NBC has been getting. The 1.6 NBC got for a game between the Outlaws and the Birmingham Bolts last Saturday night was the worst for a network prime-time sporting event.

"You know, [XFL founder] Vince McMahon didn't go to NBC, NBC came to Vince McMahon," Butkus said. "Vince's idea was to put his league on cable and UPN. That's probably where it is going to end up."

Yes, Butkus believes the league will be around next year.

"I'd be really surprised if it isn't," he said.

"I think there is going to be a resurgence, once people see what this league is really all about. It's about football, and the quality continues to improve with each week.

"In the beginning, the problem was, these teams had only three weeks to get ready for their first league games. The players needed more time to learn to jell with each other. They can all play. They were all-stars in college. . . .

"Some mistakes have been made, no doubt about that. But I have faith in Vince McMahon."

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