Saturday, October 10, 2015

Why’d They Postpone This Race So Quickly? Because of the XFL

Tonight’s race has been postponed to tomorrow (green flag around 12:30pm EST on NBCSN) due to rain. While having a race postponed due to weather isn’t that odd (especially THIS season), having one postponed so quickly IS rather out-of-the-ordinary.  Think about it—how many times have you seen it pouring rain behind a pit reporter interviewing some obscure driver but they still haven’t officially postponed anything?
An XFL game at Solider Field--and you
thought Nascar had bad attendance

The answer involves Jennifer Lopez, a failed football league, and the halcyon days of 2001.

In 2001, wrestling impresario Vince McMahon was flush with cash from the late-90’s wrestling boom.  With his closest competitor WCW a very distant second in the ratings, McMahon had his sights set on another all-American tv tradition: football.  First, he was approached about buying the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts.  McMahon countered with a proposal to buy the entire CFL.  When the CFL brass turned this down out-of-hand, McMahon decided to start his OWN football league.  He quickly found interested partners—NBC was still smarting from the loss of NFL coverage in 1998, and was willing to gamble with pro football in primetime on Saturday nights.
The league started off with decent ratings in week one.  However, when fans saw the sloppy and dull on-field product, those ratings began to tank, to the disappointment of McMahon and the anger of NBC.
Week two’s ratings were less than half that of week one’s.  Those who DID tune in got to see a barn-burner of a game, as the Los Angeles Xtreme outlasted the visiting Chicago Enforcers in double-overtime.  You’d think that NBC would be happy about having such an exciting nail biter of a game as a followup.
Nope, they were furious.
JLo, before the world got
sick of her
Well, more specifically, Lorne Michaels was furious.  Lorne was and is the creator and executive producer of NBC’s venerable Saturday Night Live tv show (as well as many other programs, most of which air on NBC).  That night SNL had the red-hot (in terms of popularity, that is) Jennifer Lopez as host and musical guest.  When people tuned-in to their local NBC affiliate at 11:30pm to see one of the most-popular entertainers at the time hosting one of the most-popular tv shows of all-time, instead they got a seemingly never-ending football game between two teams most had never heard of.  And its worth noting that even if you WERE watching from the beginning, you missed a chunk of the game due to a transformer failing at the LA Coliseum.
Shortly afterwards rules were adjusted for the rapidly declining league to ensure that games would end by 11:30pm.  Not that it mattered much, since the XFL went belly-up once NBC cut their losses mere days after the first—and only—championship.

Now it’s 2015.  The XFL is long gone, NBC has the NFL again (on Sunday nights), and has since gained, lost, and gained again coverage of Nascar.  If this was a Sunday afternoon race, or a Saturday night race on Fox, I’m sure we’d see the broadcast crew desperately stalling for time.  But because this is one of the few races airing on Saturday night on NBC, the plug was pulled before the scheduled green flag.

And all because of a controversy 14 years ago.