TMR staff took in the last of the XFL’s eight “Showcase” events on Saturday, July 13, hosted by the new XFL St. Louis franchise just outside the city, at the Lou Fusz Practice Facility in Earth City, Mo.
The Showcases — previously held by XFL Dallas (June 7, Maverick Stadium, Arlington, Texas), XFL Houston (June 8, TDECU Stadium, Houston), XFL New York (June 14, Sprague Field, Montclair, N.J.), XFL Washington, D.C. (June 15, St. James Complex, Springfield, Va.), XFL Los Angeles (June 21, Veterans Memorial Stadium, Long Beach, Calif.), XFL Seattle (June 22, Memorial Stadium, Seattle) and XFL Tampa Bay (June 29, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay) — gave aspiring pro football players a chance to show off their skills to player development officials from the league and team coaching staffs.
— XFL (@xfl2020) May 16, 2019
Following the final NFL training camp cuts (from 90 players at the start of camp to the final team roster of 53 players) on September 2, the XFL will shortly after hold their draft comprised heavily of cut players and showcase stars.
Below are staff notes and observations from the XFL St. Louis showcase…
TMR Showcase Notes
On a typical summer day in St. Louis — bright sun, temps well into the 90s with 90 percent plus humidity — 140 players went through combine-style drills at the Lou Fusz Training Facility, the former practice home of the departed St. Louis Rams.
Each player was hoping to put himself on the radar of not only the XFL St. Louis coaching staff, but the XFL player personnel department as well.
There were some recognizable names in the mix such as former Oakland Raider QB Connor Cook and the Cleveland Browns third overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft Trent Richardson.
That was fun and all, but we were there because of what was happening off the field. Joining the players and two dozen XFL execs and staffers were about 125 fans who were given an up-close view of all the festivities. Across the eight showcases, this was a typical turnout of between 125-150 fans for each event.
Kudos to the league for being fancentric as they made each showcase an invite only event with the “VIP Guests” being locals who had plunked down a $50 per seat season ticket deposit (non-refundable, of course).
Fans were able to stand on the sidelines and watch drills up close, which was obviously a hit for these serious football fans.
But better yet, execs like Commissioner Oliver Luck (see our Q&A with Luck here), SVPs Scott Parker and Derek Throneberg (XFL SVP, marketing & communications and SVP, team business operations, respectively) along with new XFL St. Louis’ newly minted team president, Kurt Hunzeker, mixed and mingled rather than segregating themselves. They both asked and answered questions, garnering valuable feedback and building trust with attendees.
Hunzeker — yes, long-time readers of TMR, the same Kurt Hunzeker who worked at TMR and ran the Fan Cost Index®️ between 2000-02 — is a native St. Louisian who took every opportunity to ingratiate himself with his future season ticket holders. He engaged fans all day, asking for feedback and suggestions, and making new friends for life the old-fashioned way: giving out XFL t-shirts to numerous folks.
When TMR spoke briefly with Hunzeker as he bounced around the facility, he was in a word, giddy.
“Not only are we the only pro football team in a sports mad town, we’re the only football team besides (NCAA Division III) Washington University,” explained Hunzeker. “As you can see, we have fans starved for football!’
St. Louis fans are still bitter about Stan Kroenke — a native Missourian! — moving their St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles.
A former back-up quarterback for the Houston Oilers, Luck mentioned several times to both fans and media how he gets “the scar tissue that’s still there” as his team picked up and moved. Lots of knowing nods to that sentiment.
A particularly nice touch from each Showcase were the “Chalk Talk” sessions.
When drills wrapped-up, fans were taken into the facility’s auditorium space — and much welcomed air conditioning — to be treated to a bag lunch and discussions with Hunzeker, Luck, and XFL St. Louis GM and head coach Jonathan Hayes.
They were very impressed with the level of engagement and questions from the fans.
Hunzeker and Luck pulled back the curtain a bit to show what’s in the works for fans on everything from season ticket opportunities to being involved deeply in the community to the many interesting rules changes being discussed.
Luck showed clips of Spring League players testing drastically different approaches to kick-offs, extra points and a :25 game clock.
With :15 seconds less than the NFL, the XFL wanted to make sure play didn’t become sloppy from being rushed too much.
Luck asked what attendees thought of game length and there was a murmur of “too long.” When Luck said the goal was to be done with play in two hours and forty-five minutes, there was practically a gasp from the audience, followed by a lot of comments like, “that’s great” and “that would be awesome!’
Luck mentioned that they are looking at everything because now is the time to innovate. Perhaps every player will have a headset in their helmet so many plays go without a huddle – further speeding up the game for viewers.
He specifically mentioned the “Football Reimagined Committee” with names like Doug Flutie, former NFL head coach Jim Caldwell, and former WNBA President Donna Orender helping blend expert perspectives from players, coaches and execs — who are all also football fans.
Those in attendance only took umbrage once. And it was all Luck’s fault. As he was turning over the microphone to Hayes for fans to pepper the new coach with questions on his Xs and Os, Luck said “Let’s welcome the coach of your XFL Seattle team!”
A round of boos mixed with laughter erupted, and the ol’ QB quickly audibled, saying “Not enough sleep, St. Louis! Sorry…St. Louis!”
Ironically, the room had erupted in its loudest cheer as Luck first took the stage for a response to a very innocuous sounding question. A fan asked Hunzeker if the team was going to make the Fusz Training Center, their St. Louis training base. Hunzeker turned to Luck and said with a laugh, “You’ll have to ask the commissioner on that.”
Luck responded by saying “I think this is going to work and work great — on one condition: they need to change the address of this place! This is XFL St. Louis country now!”
You see, the facility is still located at 1 Rams Way. One would have to think Earth City officials are already in line at the post office for a change of address.