OPINION: Stern: Can the XFL ever become the spring NFL?

XFL logo on chains
Photo credit Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to killing media mogul and primary antagonist Elliot Carver in "Tomorrow Never Dies," secret agent James Bond reminds him the primary rule of media is to "give the people what they want." And much like the XFL's hopes to grab football fans' attention during the spring, Bond's line was somewhat cheesy --though his point still stands.

In a football-craved society, giving the fans more ways to watch their beloved sport was highly received and welcomed, leaving many to speculate what the ceiling actually is for the new minor league.

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Even with Tiger Woods returning to action in the Genesis Invitational, the NBA All-Star festivities, and the Daytona 500 happening in the same weekend, the country's craving for football -- just a week after Super Bowl 57 -- was enough to get fans into watching the XFL. Who cares if the stakes aren't as high or the the players aren't as talented? The itch needed to be scratched, and for many fans, football is simply football.

In addition to being able to watch a number of players who were NFL castoffs -- former first-round pick Paxton Lynch comes to mind -- the XFL represented opportunity to see what implementing a three-point conversions and a variety of different rules would look like. Although golf, NASCAR, and the NBA are fun at times, they often feel like fillers, for what's otherwise a dead sports period. Once the NFL Combine begins, as well as free agency, the football offseason reclaims the spotlight, until sports fans hop on the college hoops bandwagon for March Madness.

College football has a special mystique on Saturdays, and the NFL dominates on Sundays. For decades, autumn has brought a pleasant feel. But the hope for the XFL and other similar football leagues that've attempted to spring up -- both successfully and unsuccessfully -- is that they can garner a comparable level of attention. And considering that college football and the NFL have had decades to build their brands, it isn't realistic for the XFL to expect that equal level of hype. But, being a well-received, backup option seems attainable.

Obituary pages for defunct football leagues lack space for reasons for failure. Inadequate funding, lower levels of popularity, and struggles to catch on with regional fanbases, are all reasons why the AAF, USFL, and others flamed-out. But, if the XFL's product is nurtured and marketed properly over the next few years, it can ultimately resemble a spring version of the NFL with comparable seasonal popularity.

Photo credit Bob Levey / Stringer / Getty Images

Given the rising salaries, wear-and-tear of the regular season, and offseason programs that occur, recruiting NFL players to join the XFL seems like a pipe dream. But getting creative in ways to recruit better talent could represent an option to increase visibility. The current cast of characters have been a tough sell, given how poor the XFL's on-field product is. It's pretty obvious that the lack of scoring and action in most games has more to do with lousy offenses, rather than elite defenses.

Imagining a scenario in which spring football blows up isn't that difficult, given the lack of other popular sports. The one caveat, however, is that the XFL has to give fans more of a reason to watch -- they can't just bank on the appeal of football being football. And the sad reality is that troubles in maintaining focus and attention will remain until the XFL finds that definitive formula for success. The short-term attention span of fans distracted by social media, the internet, and many other television options also doesn't help.

So, for the time being, the XFL's big-league attempt to entertain football fans is sufficient. But in the long-term, the XFL's ceiling feels like it's much higher.
Football during the so-called "offseason" just has too much potential for the concept to die easily. And if XFL commissioner Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has learned anything from his storied career, it's that perking up the value of entertainment in innovative manners is the best way to truly give the people what they want.

Jack Stern is a columnist, anchor, and associate producer for CBS Sports Radio. You can follow him on Twitter @J_Stern97.

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