LOS ANGELES — Whistle blowing. Fans groaning, cheering and, sometimes, crying. Popcorn and nachos crumbled in piles of debris on the ground. Players colliding, trash talking and celebrating after touchdowns.
The environment that’s typical of most football games is what Los Angeles Wildcats team president Heather Brooks Karatz hopes the XFL elicits when it relaunches in February 2020.
As the first of eight team presidents hired by the XFL, Karatz helped construct the league’s makeup, including under what mission and policies it will operate and how it will do things differently — and better — than it did in 2001 when WWE chairman Vince McMahon launched the league the first time.
Progressiveness is a focus of the new XFL, starting with its front office.
Karatz is one of the league’s two female presidents. Janet Duch — the president of the XFL’s New York team — is the other.
“I think the sports community is excited to embrace a female president in a male football league,” Karatz said. “It’s time … the entire culture of the XFL and the other team presidents are so receptive of having female presidents, and that’s what makes everybody do better.”
The league will also attempt to construct an inclusive officiating staff by providing opportunities for women and minorities, as former NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino — who will work with the XFL on officiating — told Melissa Jacobs on her “Football Girl” podcast.
Next is access. Karatz said her team will allow fans to be closer to coaches and players than they would be in other leagues.
Prior to Wednesday’s announcement of the team name and logo, the Wildcats staff had already implemented fan-engagement programs to stir excitement within Southern California. The first event was a fan meet-and-greet earlier this summer with some of the team’s coaches.
Still energized from last week’s @XFLLosAngeles excitement: Fans meeting our coaching staff for the first time; Coach Moss getting our partners hyped; #XFLShowcase players giving us heart; & @snoop youth learning from the best in the biz. Let's go LA! This is only the beginning! pic.twitter.com/N18zkAkAM4— Heather Brooks Karatz (@HeatherBKaratz) June 25, 2019
“We’re saying to our fans ‘We’re here for you, we’re accessible. We want your ideas,” Karatz said. “We want to get your feedback. And we had a beer, shared ideas, and gave them a voice.”
Karatz has less than 175 days to get that buy-in from fans, but she has experience building a new brand as the former executive vice president and general counsel of Los Angeles FC.
“We had a motto that said ‘Street by street, block by block, one by one,’” Karatz said of her time working with LAFC. “That’s how we were gonna build our fans and our fan base. ... We want to do the same thing with the XFL. We want to find our fans. We want to give them a voice … then we’ll create generational and lifelong fans because they’ll be part of it from the beginning.”
Building that support starts with putting players on the field who fans will be eager to see — guys with allure who will bring crowds to Dignity Health Sports Park each week for Wildcats games.
Karatz said she wants young fans to find their football idols in the XFL.
“One of the things we pulled from the WWE and Vince [McMahon] is the ability to craft characters and storytelling,” she said. “That skillset is really unique to the WWE, and we can transfer that over as we start to find who are our breakout stars? How did they get here? And why are they here? What are they hoping to achieve from this?
“And those stories are gonna resonate really well with our fanbase. We have a lot of kids in Los Angeles who … can’t afford to go to a Rams or a Chargers game. They’re gonna be at our games. They’re gonna see and hear about the players and meet them. That’s going to become their dream.”
The league’s roster-building process is still in its early stages. The last of the Summer Showcase workouts have concluded, and teams will soon fully turn their attention to player acquisition.
Those players from different leagues, as well as former NFL and college players who were invited to the summer tryouts, will make up the middle and bottom half of XFL rosters, Karatz said.
The rest will come from NFL rosters. The XFL landed its first notable player last week when former University of Oklahoma and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Landry Jones signed. He’s one of eight quarterbacks who will sign with the league before October’s player draft.
Karatz added that when the NFL makes its final 53-man roster cuts at the end of August, the XFL will look to claim some of those unsigned players.
“Those are guys that we already have tape on and film on,” she said.
The final target is building a team culture that will foster longevity.
“The LA team has to be connected authentically with the community,” she said. “We want to be real. We want to be as open as we can be and we want to build this together. This is not a league that’s gonna be around for a year, or two years, three years. It’s going to be around for 100 years. When you do this the first year, people want to take a look at what you’re doing. They’re intrigued. Then they’re gonna say, ‘do it again.’
“And we’re gonna do it again, and again, and again, and again.”
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