Recently I was binge-watching one of ESPN’s popular series 30 for 30.  I came upon their episode This Is The XFL.

The XFL debuted in 2001 within 12 months after its creation. The fact that they didn’t actually have a game plan, they didn’t have coaches or players or anything and then 12 months later they’re doing it. One year after its debut, the XFL was gone. It’s amazing it even came to fruition.

Many would call it a failure. There were many missteps for the start-up league. They lost a lot of viewership all because they lost a live feed and because someone didn’t get gas in the generator. Many would even say that it was a failed experiment by Vince McMahon of the WWF (now WWE) and Dick Ebersol of NBC, as they were 50/50 partners in the league. A better way to examine it is to look at what innovations came out of the league.

The XFL provided its viewers with camera angles that had not been seen before in professional leagues up until that point.

The NFL back then was known as the No Fun League. McMahon and Ebersol’s partnership brought passion, fun, and exuberance back to the game that fans loved. Innovation came from the production values, the rule changes and unmitigated access to behind the scenes. Many of these same innovations have been what have driven the NFL and other major sports leagues to dizzying heights of popularity and revenue streams to be seen now at unheard levels. So what lessons can you learn from this so-called failed venture?

  1. Look for ways to innovate. How can you combine technology into your business to engage your audiences all to the benefit of your client? In the process, of innovation, don’t be a hater. Find a way to take what you were inspired to do from others and make it your own.
  2. Fail and fail fast. After you fail, alter your course and take a new direction. It’s not entirely a failure if you learn from your mistakes.
  3. Have measurements in place. Have a budget set aside for expansion or growth and don’t exceed it or grow too fast that you can’t keep up with quality. When NBC saw the downturn in ratings, they devised a plan to pull the plug on their involvement with the league even though they had a two year deal with Vince McMahon in their partnership.  

The bottom line is that you can’t look at anything in your business as a failure if you learned from it. One must learn from their mistakes, take heed to warnings from others who have dealt with similar issues in other industries, and adapt their innovation to better serve their clients. Who knows, you may even have an opportunity (just like Vince McMahon) to bring back your failed experiment) to the spotlight in the future.

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