Who is ready for the XFL? One Locust resident hopes viewers tune in

Published 10:11 am Thursday, February 16, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Chris Phillips, a Norwood native and Locust resident, began work in November as the director of league partnerships for the XFL, which will kick off its 2023 season on Saturday.

Chris Phillips

Having previously worked in the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Hornets organizations, Phillips most recently had served with the Buffalo Bills, where fellow Norwood native and long-time friend Brandon Beane serves as general manager.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Phillips spoke about his position, his job responsibilities and the XFL in general.

“My role is to oversee and grow non-ticket revenues for the league and its teams,” Phillips said, explaining that each of the XFL’s eight teams assigns a member of its management structure the responsibility of handling that same responsibility within that team’s regional market.

“I supervise these eight people,” he added, revealing a unique facet of the XFL’s league structure.

“Every team is owned by the league, and everyone including coaches and team personnel are either league employees or independent contractors working for the league,” said Phillips, noting this key difference between the XFL and other professional sports conferences.

“In most sports leagues, the league itself does not help the individual teams in securing sponsors, hiring staff, ticket sales and so forth,” he said. “In the XFL, the league must approve all deals, and all revenue from these deals is allocated to the eight teams in the league.”

Non-ticket revenue, for which Phillips is responsible, consists primarily of sponsorships, although it is not limited to such.

“We are always looking to create new assets,” he said, “and we are always asking, ‘What can we monetize?’ ”

He cited examples such as permission to use league logos and exclusivity rights.

“We have to negotiate such matters,” he said. “That involves determining an amount that is agreeable to both the potential sponsor and the league for such rights.”

Facilities used by the league are rented rather than owned, Phillips said.

“That creates quite a challenge to the league in abiding by the different sets of usage rules and guidelines for each stadium.”
Although the league itself has the rights to determine its “official” sponsors, individual teams are allowed to procure local sponsors as well, with some limitations. Phillips cited Progressive Insurance as an example.

“Progressive is an official league sponsor, and their logo will be painted on each playing field,” he said. “Now, if one of the teams wants to have a local insurance company as a sponsor, that is allowable, but the local sponsor is not to have any TV visibility.”

All XFL games will be televised, according to Phillips, per a contract with ABC/Disney.

“This includes not only ABC, but ESPN, ESPN 2, and FX,” he said.

His road to the XFL started in an unorthodox way, as he described his career at Buffalo being “wrecked by COVID.”

“After the pandemic, I wanted to get back into pro sports,” he said. “Russ Brandon and Erika Muhleman, both of whom I had worked with in Buffalo, had joined the XFL (Brandon as league president and Muhleman as chief revenue officer), and they hired me this past October. I started work in November.”

Although the league’s hub is located in Arlington, Virginia, Phillips is normally able to do much of his work from home.

That won’t be the case during the season, however.

Asked about his travel schedule and preparations for the league openers, Phillips described the workload as “ridiculous,” with a hectic first week of play in store beginning Saturday.

“I’m responsible for all things sponsor-related,” he said. “I’ll be in Houston on Saturday for their opener, and in San Antonio on Sunday for theirs,” he said. “Then I’ll be going to Seattle for their home opener the following Thursday night.”

Game prep duties start for Phillips days before, when he is responsible for facilitating player and coach appearances with media and news outlets, assuring that stadium suites for sponsors and VIPs are arranged and properly supplied, that pre-game elements such as special guests at the coin toss, and pre-game or post-game interviews are facilitated, and that the elements of the sponsors’ contractual agreements are met.

“Part of my game-day responsibilities is assuring that sponsors, who have paid for a certain number of minutes for their logo and information to be displayed on digital signage, gets the amount of time they have paid for,” he said.

While most of his work is behind the scenes, Phillips acknowledged that it enables the spotlight to be on the coaches and players filling the rosters of the league’s eight teams.

“Our coaches are the big stars,” he said, noting that of the league’s eight head coaches, all but one has NFL playing and/or coaching experience.

The league, which under original founder Vince McMahon, was considered a competitor to the NFL, has moved into the role of a “collaborator,” said Phillips.

“We want as many of our current players as possible to be on NFL rosters come next fall,” he stated, noting that the league works with the NFL not only in player development, but in other matters such as player safety and in-game testing of experimental game rules.

“Our game is designed to be fast-moving and to hold the fans’ interest,” Phillips said, noting a shorter (9-minute) halftime, and a running clock except on time outs and possession changes until the final two minutes of each half.

While the past history of the XFL may seem foreboding (McMahon’s original version of the XFL existed only for the 2001 season, and the re-launch of the league in 2020 was shut down halfway through the season by COVID), Phillips expressed optimism that the new incarnation of the league “will be around for a while.”

Current league owners include Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, his ex-wife, businesswoman Dany Garcia, and New York-based investment firm RedBird Capital Partners.

“The Rock is a huge asset for us,” Phillips said, adding that his association with the league has already brought visibility and credibility to the circuit.

A 12-person leadership team handles day-to-day operations of the league, with each individual member having pro sports experience ranging from marketing and finance to technology and legal matters, as well as officiating and athletic training.

“We’ve got a lot going for us,” Phillips said. “It’s great to be able to be a part of this.”

Where To Watch?

First week games for the XFL are:

• 3 p.m. Saturday, Vegas Vipers at Arlington Renegades (ABC);

• 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Orlando Guardians at Houston Roughnecks (ESPN / FX);

• 3 p.m. Sunday, St. Louis Battlehawks at San Antonio Brahmas (ABC); and

• 8 p.m. Sunday, Seattle Sea Dragons at D.C. Defenders (ESPN).

Visit xfl.com for more information.