How seriously is the XFL being taken by the cynical press? The answer may be found on local sports pages, where the maxim of less is more seems to apply: The less big-time sports activity in a town where the league has a franchise, the more coverage the XFL gets.
In Memphis, a city with no major league pro franchise, the WWF's foray into conventional pro sports is getting the benefit of the doubt. The town's major daily newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, has had a beat writer following the hometown Maniax since training camp began in January and provides an elaborate preview each week, complete with color-coded charts and stats. The subsequent game story runs on the sports section's front page. "Cities like Memphis, Birmingham and Las Vegas are giving us very good coverage," says Jeff Shapes, an XFL spokesman. "It's been as much as we could have hoped for."
The league is less thrilled, however, with the ink it's getting in larger markets, where it must compete for column inches with reports on local NBA and NHL franchises, college basketball teams and the hometown baseball club, now that spring training has begun. The sports section of the Chicago Tribune has yet to have a game story on the Enforcers on its front page. "We didn't even staff them when they were on the road," says Tribune sports editor Dan McGrath. "I don't think we'll cover them on a daily basis. It's very competitive here."
Asked if his paper has a beat man covering the Los Angeles Xtreme, Los Angeles Times sports editor Bill Dwyer blurted out, "Oh, good God, no! Please!" Dwyer's opinion of the new league may best be gauged by the fact that he has assigned Larry Stewart, the Times' sports media writer, to provide most of the paper's XFL coverage. "You can't treat this as a serious competitive challenge to the NFL," Dwyer said, laughing. "We've addressed the buzz and been properly sarcastic about it. But this is L.A.! We've got Shaq and Kobe fighting!"