Headset issues in a March 25, 2023 Seattle-Orlando XFL game. Headset issues in a March 25, 2023 Seattle-Orlando XFL game. (Awful Announcing on Twitter.)

A big part of the XFL so far has been about trying out some rule changes. When they signed a partnership with the NFL in February 2022, XFL president Russ Brandon described part of that deal as making the XFL a “petri dish” to experiment with rules that might eventually make their way to the NFL. One rule difference from the NFL (which is a difference actually carried on in a slightly modified form from the 2020 XFL reboot) is about helmet speakers.

In the XFL, those speakers can be worn by up to two defensive players and all offensive skill players. It’s limited to the quarterback and one defensive player in the NFL. The XFL also doesn’t cut out the play-calling coach’s microphone doesn’t cut out until the snap; in the NFL, it’s cut out with 15 seconds on the play clock. That allows for more coach-player communication, and for more up-tempo, no-huddle offenses. But, when the system goes wrong, that can force some scrambling.

And that was particularly rough in 95-degree heat in Orlando Saturday during the hometown Guardians’ game against the Seattle Sea Dragons. There, both teams hit early headset/speaker issues. On the first drive of the game, Seattle quarterback Ben DiNucci ran to the sidelines between each play to get the next playcall, and the ABC booth of Roy Philpott and Joey Galloway discussed what was going wrong.

Shortly after, on Orlando’s first drive, the booth discussed how they were also having headset/speaker communication issues.

By the end of the first half, the issue seemed at least somewhat fixed. But there were still some challenges getting the calls to all of the players who needed them. (It is interesting that the XFL’s emphasis on access, and on letting viewers hear those coach/player discussions, makes it easier for broadcasters and viewers to note when the headsets aren’t working, and just how much they aren’t working.)

Of course, headset issues happen in many leagues, including the NFL. And it’s possible to get calls through without headsets: there are a variety of methods that can work for that, including college teams’ visual signboards, or just the approach of having a player run to the sideline and back (or a subbed-in player bring in the call). But amping up the running required during an already-hot game seems unpleasant. And, as Galloway noted on the broadcast, this hasn’t been the only time the XFL has faced headset issues this year.

We’ll see if the headset issues continue to be a problem for this league going forward. If they do, expanded usage of headsets may not make it out of this particular “petri dish,” at least not without more reliable technology.

[H/T to @SickosCommittee on Twitter]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.