While their hosts took on Navy in Philadelphia, the New York Guardians introduced themselves to their fans in a practice at West Point.
The local Army Black Knights were on a business trip in Philadelphia, but their West Point football headquarters were still bustling with activity with a New York-branded squad seeking greatness.
While the Black Knights faced Navy in the annual service academy showdown at Lincoln Financial Field, the New York Guardians descended upon their practice field at the West Point campus for a special minicamp session on Saturday afternoon. The team, part of the upcoming XFL reboot, held practice in front of their future fanbase for the first time, with VIP invitees watching at the Foley Athletic Center.
That area is primarily used by the Army football squad for practice but professional antics took over in preparation for kickoff on February 9.
Team president Janet Duch spoke to ESNY about the state of the team and the positive developments building towards opening weekend.
“I think what we’re focused on the ultra experience,” Duch said. “We want to make sure that, from a fan experience standpoint, that we are high touch and that we’re communicating with our fans and making sure that their experience at the stadium and the atmosphere is representative of what New York fans want from their sports teams.”
Duch knows what it’s like to try and bring notoriously hard-to-please New York sports fans. She previously worked in marketing and public relations at Madison Square Garden. New York’s new president was not only honored to have her team take the field on the hallowed ground at West Point but also with the turnout of intrigued fans energized by a new brand of professional football.
“For us, at the end of the day, we’re all about football, fun, and the family and fan experience,” Duch said. “We’re focused on making sure that we’re game day-ready. (The coaching staff) is certainly working through what they’ve got going on the field. For us on the business side, we’re really focused on the experience and the ultra access. At the end of the day, the research shows that fans want more football, and it really is for the love of the game.”
As if to prove Duch’s point of family, one of the most endearing sights of Saturday’s event was quarterbacks Matt McGloin and Marquise Williams playing with the former’s son on the practice field.
— Geoff Magliocchetti (@GeoffMags5490) December 14, 2019
Saturday’s event began with Guardians’ personnel taking questions from the new fanbase, answering inquiries about the new league and its rumored innovations. The supporters were invited into practice shortly after. Fans got a preview of how XFL games will differ from NFL contests during practice. Among the contrasts were a 25-second play clock and hints of tiered post-touchdown attempts worth two or three points.
One member of the secondary hinted to ESNY that defenses would have to deal with “double forward passes” and receivers needing only one foot inbounds to earn a catch.
Players continued to get used to the new innovations on the field. A need for adjustments was well on display during Saturday’s session. The buzzer on the shortened play clock, for example, perhaps went off far too many times for the coaching staff’s comfort.
Nonetheless, energy and enthusiasm were high on both sides of the ball. Defensive lineman Joey Mbu told ESNY that he believes the defense’s chemistry has considerably risen since camp began.
“We’re meshing well. We’re getting to know each other, knowing everybody’s names and stuff, just getting to know everything about who that person as a person off the field,” Mbu said. “That will help us on the field as well.”
After practice, fans got an opportunity to meet their new gridiron heroes. Players thanked them personally for their attendance, shaking hands and posing for photos with admirers young and old alike.
“I think what we’re really focused on is ultra-access,” Duch remarked. “How do we get fans closer to the game that we all love? How do we do that in-stadium, on game day? How do we do that through our content and our digital channels? I know our team and the league in Stamford is really working through how to do that with our broadcast partners.”
“What we’re really focused on is making sure we come out with a really good fan experience.”
— New York Guardians (@XFLGuardians) December 14, 2019
Guardians minicamp will wrap up next week, with the team returning to their usual practice grounds of Superdome Sports in Waldwick, NJ. All eight XFL teams will descend upon Texas for regular training camp later this winter, with the Guardians’ proceedings taking place on the campus of Houston Baptist University.
On Tuesday, the team will visit their future home of MetLife Stadium for a town hall event. XFL commissioner Oliver Luck will be in attendance, and the event will be hosted by Dianna Russini of ESPN, one of the league’s broadcast partners. Their East Rutherford debut comes exactly one week after Super Bowl LIV against the Tampa Bay Vipers.