The X League, slated to debut in June 2022, is giving new opportunities to women athletes, while drawing in viewers with a multicast approach that includes a game feed from the owner’s box and access to the offensive coordinator’s headset.
A proliferation of MultiCast game presentations has given viewers the choice of three Thursday Night Football audio feeds, two Monday Night Football broadcasts—including a certain pair of retired quarterback brothers—and even baseball playoff games with or without heavy doses of statistical analysis.
But choices over video feeds and cameras angles have been far more limited—until now.
The X League, a women’s professional football league backed by Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Ditka, is hoping to create a watershed moment for viewer autonomy. Fans will have the option to toggle between some two dozen camera angles—or even simulcast several at once—to watch the game however they want. That could mean following the action from a non-traditional vantage point such as an end zone view or by isolating a key player across the 70-yard field while they play 7-on-7 full-contact tackle football.
Viewers will also have the choice of various other audio channels, offering unprecedented access to on-field and in-venue communication. Just as the Alliance of American Football introduced the ability to listen to instant replay deliberations, X League fans will also be able to select a channel to eavesdrop on the offensive coordinator’s instructions to a quarterback or perhaps what the chatter is like in the owner’s box.
The X League is scheduled to launch with at least eight and perhaps 10 U.S. teams in June 2022 with plans for expansion to the UK in 2025 and Germany in 2026—all of which will showcase its “choose-your-own adventure experience for the
end user,” says Wes Powell, the CFO of Launch Global, a digital entertainment production company that is supporting the X League’s efforts. Panasonic is the expected camera provider, and Kiswe, a live interactive video provider, is in line to be a key broadcast partner.
“I feel like we’re at a Henry Ford moment,” Powell says, “like the old quote of, ‘If you had asked somebody before the
Model T came out, what do they want, they’d say a faster horse.’ They just haven’t experienced multi-camera choice before.”
The managing partner of the X League, Mitchell Mortaza, is best known for his work starting the Legends Football League (which produced the Lingerie Football League), though he emphasizes this is a separate venture. Players such as Rachel Washington of the Austin Sound have been training for over a year. Ditka is the X League chairman and its UK chief is Shaun Harvey, who formerly was CEO of the English Football League and club Leeds United.
The X League is developing a brand campaign entitled “Empowerment through Opportunity” to generate awareness for young female athletes that football is becoming more accessible for them to play.
“Everybody sees what’s happening in women’s sport—there’s an incredible momentum forming behind it—and then also see what the NFL has done recently in the past five years in really highlighting the role of women in football,” says Mortaza. “And lastly, there [is] a void of a major commercial sports league for women’s football. And that’s the void we’re going to be stepping into. Obviously, you have millions of girls around the country that want to play the game that never had that opportunity before. This is that aspirational league for them.”
The X League has raised over $30 million in Series A funding and has partnered with global streaming media partners such as Eurosport, Sony Pictures Television, StarTimes and the Endemol Shine Group. The latter partner, whose TV credits include Big Brother and MasterChef, will produce a docuseries on the X League. The league’s U.S. media partner and major corporate sponsors will be announced in February.
At launch, the X League will be a single entity with teams in Atlanta, Arizona, Austin, Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles and Seattle, playing in mostly in arenas. The confirmed venues thus far are accesso ShoWare Center near Seattle, H-E-B Center near Austin, Gas South Arena near Atlanta, Cable Dahmer Arena near Kansas City, SeatGeek Stadium near Chicago and the Budweiser Events Center near Denver.
National tryouts for players will take place regionally in combine-style workouts this coming January, with more than 1,800 women already registered, Mortaza says. The league will emphasize fantasy and betting options to fans, who also will have the opportunity to call some plays used in the game. Launch also offers a patent-pending NFT minting and managing service. Mortaza believes the X League can succeed where other non-NFL pro leagues—such as the AAF and XFL—have not.
“With men’s football in the spring leagues, nobody’s really going to gravitate toward a second-tier product,” he says. “They’re just not going to do that. And we’ve seen that play out time and time again where, with the X League, there is no other tier-one women’s platform.”
The X League won’t be available on linear television because that wouldn’t provide the digital interface needed for the functionality of viewer choice. There will be a curated and produced broadcast feed in addition to the varying camera angles fans can select. Players will wear sensors in their shoulder pads to help guide the AI video production. Launch will have some production crew on site, but also use a central studio, probably in Mexico City, Powell says.
“That choice is something that video game players have had for a long time,” says Powell, whose company has worked with musical acts such as Erykah Badu and members of Run-DMC and The Roots. “Because they can always move their virtual camera all over the place and look at something from a different angle. But in sports, or in performing arts, that’s never been the case.”
Mortaza says that other pro leagues are already taking note. Although recent advances have enabled golf fans, for instance, to create their own foursomes to stream at Augusta National, the X League will be giving the viewer mostly unprecedented customization.
“They’re seeing this as a major case study for sport,’’ Mortaza says, “to show that you can provide fans and incredible level of access and not lose credibility.’’
A version of this story appeared in the Dec. 13, 2021 edition of Sports Business Journal.
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