Tribune, January 29, 2002
XFL Simworld - New Internet game trains sports czars
By Alec Rosenberg,
OAKLAND - THE XFL FOLDED after just one season.
The smash-mouth football league started with a splash. It had
money; a network partner, NBC; and a brash co-owner, the World
Wrestling Federation. Its television ratings exceeded expectations
initially but then plummeted. After kicking off in February 2001,
the XFL became the ex-FL in May 2001.
XFL's failure became fodder for criticism of the league's personalities,
from WWF Chairman Vince McMahon to analyst Jesse Ventura. But what
went wrong from a business standpoint? Oakland resident Zenophon
Abraham has developed a business simulation game that tackles how
the XFL flopped.
Abraham's XFL Simworld gives participants a chance to keep the
sinking XFL ship afloat. The Internet game is a tool to show how
decisions from player salaries to ticket prices can determine the
profitability of a sports franchise.
Abraham said he hopes the game will lead to deals to create similar
models for established pro sports teams and leagues and startup
"It's to encourage people to think of sports as a business
rather than just entertainment," said Abraham, 38, who is
president of the Oakland-Alameda County Sports Commission.
While other sports games focus on the action on the field, XFL
Simworld centers on the business side. Players select from eight
day for games, player salaries, ticket prices, marketing expenses,
location of teams, number of teams, number of league employees
and players per team.
You're the CEO. If you want to pay players $200,000 each, you
can, but your expenses will soar. If you play on Sundays instead
of Saturdays, ratings skyrocket at first, but can you sustain it?
"The driver of this is ratings," Abraham said. "You
have an investor, NBC, that you want to make happy."
The goal is to keep the league alive for five seasons. It is possible,
The game, developed with Forio Business Simulations of San Francisco,
can be played for free on the Internet at http://broadcast.forio.com/sims/xfl.
Each game only takes a few minutes to play -- giving you instant
feedback. If you fail, you can try again.
Simulations help show nuances better than a spreadsheet or PowerPoint
presentation, said Michael Bean, 36, president of Forio.
"When you experience something this way, you remember it
better," Bean said.
Abraham agreed. He wants to show the sports world the benefits
of business simulators.
Abraham built up his sports connections as economic adviser to
former Mayor Elihu Harris and leader of Oakland's bid effort to
host the 2005 Super Bowl. After Oakland wasn't selected, Abraham
found a new outlet for his interest in sports business: simulations.
Using his background in system dynamics -- a way of showing how
complex systems change over time -- Abraham created XFL Simworld.
Abraham did not have NBC or the WWF as an official client. He
did not talk to anyone at the WWF, although he did discuss XFL
Simworld with the XFL's marketing director and sent a press release
about the game to NBC sports chief Dick Ebersol.
"The XFL doesn't exist anymore," Abraham said. "It's
contractual obligations are nil. I don't have to worry about stepping
on sponsors' toes."
The game debuted a month ago and has received more than 2,000
visitors. Abraham has updated it regularly, including adding a
Also, Abraham has been working on a simulator based on the Oakland
A's, which is 60 percent complete. He said his dream clients would
be Major League Baseball and the National Football League.
Abraham wants to set up secure Web sites where teams and leagues
could test management policies in private. The models could address
questions such as how would higher ticket prices affect attendance
or what would be the impact of eliminating teams, he said.
"Lopping off a city isn't necessarily the answer," Abraham
said. "The answers aren't easy and simple. You have to try
different combinations. It's like life."