Fox's Curt Menefee Explains How the XFL Can Succeed Putting Football First

Scott Fishman
FOX

This year fans didn’t have to wait long to get their football fix again after the Super Bowl. That’s because less than a week following the big game, the XFL rose like a phoenix from the ashes.

The Vince McMahon-founded league returned, looking for a more successful result compared to its last incarnation, which shuttered after one season in 2001. The atmosphere inside TDECU Stadium was palpable for Curt Menefee, who is part of the XFL on Fox broadcast team alongside Joel Klatt.

“It seemed the crowd was into it from the opening kick until the end,” the veteran sports commentator recalled. “One of the great stories that we were talking about after the game was the line at the merchandise stand was out of control. When we walked by it, there had to have been 20 or 30 deep in each line, which showed the excitement they had about the game and the league and their team.

Curt Menefee Fox Headshot

Fox Sports

“It was just good football. The quality of the game last week, not just the game we did between L.A. and Houston, but all the games I got a chance to see were really good. The quality of play was really good and well officiated. It came across really good on TV. Any time you’re part of anything successful, especially when you are there from the very beginning — 30 years from now, knock on wood, you’ll be able to say I was there the first weekend and did one of the first games on the first day.”

The XFL enjoys a strong network penetration right out of the gate with games between the eight teams (Team 9 is a practice squad) shown on Fox, ABC, FS1 and ESPN.  Before week two gets underway and the march toward the championship game heats up, Menefee tells us why he believes the league’s future is bright and scoring the proverbial touchdown with viewers.

When you think back to the original XFL, what are some things you think officials learned from the past to make this second effort last? 

Curt Menefee: If you ask me, the league now has nothing to do with the league in 2001, aside from having the same name. This is all about football run by football people. Oliver Luck, commissioner of the league, did NFL Europe for a long time. I did NFL Europe for 10 years while he was commissioner there. Then he went and helped run the NCAA and was a director in West Virginia. The people that are involved on a team basis, most of the personnel guys who are presidents are NFL people or people who have NFL backgrounds. Coaches are the same with NFL and college backgrounds.

I think that a major difference is that football is first, second and third. There are tweaks you do to make sure it’s a better television product. But it’s not about gimmicks. It’s really about the quality of the game and quality of the sport. I think that approach is why it can be successful. People that sit down and watch it want to see football. They don’t want to see the craziness. That doesn’t happen here. I think that’s a major, major feather in its cap right now.

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You and Joel received high marks for your initial outing. How do you feel you two mesh together? 

I think part of it is Joel is as good as there is. Those who may not watch college football maybe haven’t seen him. Those of us who have know what an quality analyst he is. He is also a great guy. I think that is the reason, even if it was one week, that we meshed so well. We’re friendly and giving. That’s one of the things I try to make sure that I do. Sports is about the analyst in my mind. That person is the expert.

He knows the x’s and o’s. I want to give him as much room as possible, but along the way, it’s also about your vibe and relationship with him. I think that is one of the things that work. Whether it’s those of us in the [Fox NFL Sunday] Pregame Show because we’re friends with one another or if you go to crews like Joe Buck and Troy Aikman where Joe was in Troy’s wedding — things like that. Those things kind of matter. That you like one another, and I think that comes across on the air one way or another.

A lot of people are excited about the new rules implemented in the XFL, different from the NFL. What would you like to see the NFL take from the XFL that could really make a difference in gameplay? 

One thing that stands out to me is the kickoff rule. I think you get so many plays right now that are kickoffs or touchbacks or guys get hurt. I know the statistics they like to use is between the college game and NFL game, six percent of the plays are kickoffs and 21 percent of concussions happen on kickoff plays. So you have to find a way to reduce the injury and head trauma. I think this is the perfect way to do it by having the two lines line up five yards apart. You don’t get that 40-yard full sprint down field with one guy and another guy trying to brace himself to take that impact. Yet you keep the returns in the game. It’s not a touchback and doesn’t just start at the 25-yard line.

I think the other thing is the transparency of the replay booth. To be able to hear the guy up there: one, revealing every play; two, communicating with the referee on the field about where a ball should be spotted or whether it’s a foul or not. I think by people being able to see and hear that, that’s one of the things I’ve heard the most response about. The transparency makes people more comfortable with it because even if you don’t agree with the call, I think it humanizes the people.

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You understand why they made the call even if you disagreed with it. That’s something where you can look at all levels of football, and I think at some point, all levels of sports will be doing in the future. When you look at television, 10 years ago before Mike Pereira, nobody had a rules official. Now they have it on every sport on television. I think that this replay review process has a chance to do that in every single sport. If you look a decade from now, I think everyone will be doing it.

It’s very early in the season, I know, but who has stood out or what teams stand out to you right now? 

It’s hard to say. You look at the team in Houston that we had last week, and I think they are really good on both sides of the football. A guy like P.J. Walker threw for four touchdowns. I think it’s hard to evaluate after one week because you look at the NFL with a team that is really good where there is a week they really stink. So if you judge them on that, you think it’s a team going nowhere. I’d like to have a little more data before going that far.

I think that teams who are solid at quarterback are going to have a better chance. I mention the Houston team, but in D.C. you have [DC Defenders’] Cardale Jones and an offensive-minded coach in Pep Hamilton. I think you look at those two teams, one in the East and one in the West, I think right now they are probably two of the better teams. Though there is a long way to go.

The XFL’s first week drew solid ratings and attendance. Week two is a whole different animal, as are the weeks after that. What do you think the outlook right now for the XFL in your eyes in making sure it lasts past the one season or doesn’t turn into an AAF? 

I think that is going to be an interesting thing to watch. I think during week one you expect people to tune in out of curiosity. Then it has to sustain itself. We’ll find out this week if it does. I have a feeling it will because there is such a positive buzz coming out of last week from a television standpoint and a football standpoint.

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People seem to really enjoy it. I  expect those people to be back and probably some people who are thinking, “Okay, what is this buzz about?” I do think it will sustain. I think the other factor is it’s on networks between us and ABC and ESPN and FS1 and FOX, so people know where to find games. You know when you come home on a Saturday afternoon, depending on what time it is, there is a game on ABC or FOX. You don’t have to search around. I think that is a huge factor in why it will be successful going forward.

I talked about the crowds in Houston. This week in Seattle they are expecting upwards of 30,000 people. They’ve sold more season tickets than practically any other place. I know St. Louis is another place where they also sold a lot of season tickets. I do think, at least in my estimation, that places where they can hold more will bring higher attendances than they were last week. Again, we will see if I’m proven right.”

Tampa Bay Vipers @ Seattle Dragons, February 15, 5/4c, FOX 

St. Louis BattleHawks @ Houston Roughnecks, February 15, 6/5c, FS1

Check out the complete schedule on the XFL website