Vipers’ season over: Amid coronavirus fears, XFL ends regular season

Tampa Bay was slated to host a game at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday at 5 p.m.
Tampa Bay Vipers and fans on the sideline before the start of the XFL home opener against the Houston Roughnecks on Feb. 22 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Tampa Bay Vipers and fans on the sideline before the start of the XFL home opener against the Houston Roughnecks on Feb. 22 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Mar. 12, 2020|Updated Mar. 13, 2020

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TAMPA — In deliberating this week whether to suspend play because of the coronavirus pandemic, the XFL had an entirely different set of factors to consider than its professional sports counterparts.

As a start-up league, the XFL didn’t have the branding, fan base, player recognition or stability that Major League Baseball, the NBA and NHL own. The league was working on building that and believed it could by the end of its first season. But with fears that limiting large gatherings would be the only way to prevent coronavirus from spreading to unmanageable proportions, the XFL had little choice but to suspend play, and it did Thursday evening by canceling the remaining five weeks of the regular season.

The announcement came less than two days before the Vipers were slated to host the St. Louis Battlehawks on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium in a game that featured the league’s top two running games.

“Currently, the XFL will not be playing it’s regular-season games,” the XFL said in a statement. “However, all players will be paid their base pay and benefits for the 2020 regular season. All XFL ticket holders will be issued refunds or credit toward future games. The XFL is committed to playing a full season in 2021 and future years.”

Previous pro football startup attempts in the United States have failed, including the first XFL, which tried to compete with the NFL but lasted just one season, and the Alliance of American Football, which was shuttered midway through its first season last year. While (the jury was still out on) this version of the XFL, led by commissioner Oliver Luck, (it) seemed to set a better path.

The league gained exposure through TV deals with FOX and ESPN, and introduced interesting rule changes and advanced access to the sideline with in-game interviews and miking up players and coaches in real time.

The timing, however, couldn’t be worse for the Vipers, who were in the middle of a five-week stretch that included four home games at Raymond James Stadium. On the field, the team was 1-4, needing to win all of its remaining games to finish with a winning record. Inconsistent play, questionable coaching calls and an early-season quarterback controversy sent a developing fan base on a wild ride through the first half.

The Vipers drew 18,117 for their home opener three weeks ago, a number that dropped to 12,249 for their second game the following week.

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