STAMFORD, CT: The XFL, the professional football league being rebooted by WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, has named 160over90 as its AOR.
The XFL, which relaunched last year, is planning to kick off its season in February. It had no incumbent PR agency but was working with 160over90 parent Endeavor’s sports services group on content strategy, according to league president and COO Jeffrey Pollack.
The competitive search began in early October and 160over90 won the account last month, he said. As many as five agencies pitched for the account, said Pollack, who declined to disclose financial information about the contract, which is set to run through the XFL season.
"As an agency, all of Endeavor is about as wired into pop culture as an agency can be, and we’re going to benefit from that," Pollack said. "But the team also impressed us with their media relations know-how and frankly has a shared spirit of innovation and the desire to do things a little differently."
He also praised the firm’s digital and social media chops.
The agency is working on the XFL’s media relations strategy, message development and influencer engagement to generate awareness. Samantha Stark, EVP of communications at the firm, is leading its eight-person team on the account as it reintroduces the XFL step-by-step.
"Right before Thanksgiving, we revealed the design of our game ball, and this week we’re revealing the design of the uniforms, and we’re also booting up the mini-camps and we’ll be unveiling the rules," Pollack said. "The drumbeat has started to get a little steadier for us and a little louder, and it’s all hands on deck to make sure we’re starting to get the message out with greater volume and precision than ever before."
The firm is supporting the XFL at a league-wide level and supporting a PR director with each of its eight teams. The league operates as a single entity, unlike the National Football League, in which each team is a separate franchise. This means all team employees, including the players and the PR directors, work for the XFL.
Pollack said the league’s media relations strategy will also differ from the norm for a sports organization. "We’re focused on providing great customer service to the media that covers us and thinking a little differently [when it comes] to who we invite and encourage to cover us," he said.
This is McMahon’s second iteration of the XFL. The first, which launched in 2001, failed, but Pollack said that history is an asset, not a liability.
"We’re launching a 100-year brand that already has about two decades of brand equity built into it," he said. "The XFL today is very different than the XFL from 20 years ago. We’ve found there’s a lot of interest, curiosity and excitement and frankly open minds about what we’re doing and what we’re going to do. We benefit by having a brand that to many is already known."
Pollack also contended that comparisons to the NFL or other attempts to launch a rival football league aren’t appropriate.
"This is unlike any other league launch in history," he said. "We have been blessed with the resources and time needed to prepare. We have television partnerships that are second to none and we’re in the right markets with the right vision for our football product. No other sports league has started the way we’re starting, so you can’t make that comparison. As it relates to any other pro football league, we’re a complement, not a competitor. We see ourselves as an expander of the market."
Pollack also said that pre-launch research has shown that there is strong demand for more football.
"The research by McKinsey has shown there are about 38 million football fans who are hungry for more of the game we all love after the Super Bowl," he said.
However, the XFL will differ from the NFL in that it will not address social issues. McMahon has said that players will be required to stand for the national anthem. Pollack wouldn’t comment on what the league might do if a player demonstrated in a way similar to Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest of 2016. "I can’t answer hypotheticals," he said.
However, Pollack did say the XFL communications strategy won’t have a social purpose element.
"What I would say is we’re focused on one thing only, and that’s football," he said. "This isn’t about politics. It’s about football."