After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April, it appeared the story of the rebooted XFL was over.
Instead, a third chapter is apparently about to be written.
The brand that dropped and flopped in 2001 only to return in 2020 – making it through half a season before being halted by the COVOD-19 pandemic – will try again thanks to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital Partners.
They were the winning bidders on Monday as the XFL’s parent company, Alpha Entertainment LLC, prepared to go up for auction. However, the group bought the assets for roughly $15 million and the auction was canceled. The deal is expected to be approved at a bankruptcy court hearing on Friday and will become official on August 21.
Garcia, the former wife of Johnson and still his business partner, becomes the first woman to own a professional sports league.
“For Dwayne, (Redbird founder and managing partner Gerry Cardinale) and myself, this property represents an incredible opportunity. It is the confluence of great passion, tradition and possibility” Garcia said in a news release. “Sports and entertainment are the foundations of the businesses I have built. Melding our expertise combined with our commitment to deliver exciting and inspiring unique content, has us all focused on developing the XFL brand into a multi-media experience that our athletes, partners and fans will proudly embrace and love.”
Following the abrupt end to the 2020 season there was reason to believe the league – then owned by professional wrestling mogul Vince McMahon – would return in 2021. But in April most of its employees were laid off and the XFL filed for bankruptcy.
Four months later, it’s back in the game.
“The acquisition of the XFL with my talented partners, Dany Garcia and Gerry Cardinale, is an investment for me that’s rooted deeply in two things – my passion for the game and my desire to always take care of the fans,” Johnson said. “With pride and gratitude for all that I’ve built with my own two hands, I plan to apply these callouses to the XFL, and look forward to creating something special for the players, fans, and everyone involved for the love of football.”
Before it was forced to pull the plug due to the pandemic, the XFL had made a positive impression. The St. Louis BattleHawks and Seattle Dragons were the biggest hits at the box office, with St. Louis averaging 28,541 fans per game and Seattle pulling 25,616. TV ratings were starting to slip a bit but were still respectable, and the quality of play was solid.
It certainly wasn’t on par with the NFL, but saying it was Triple A level pro football is accurate. As for its third go-round, what can we expect?
There’s no reason to think the new owners won’t stick with the “XFL” name, which is a decision I understand but don’t particularly agree with. The acronym is well-known, but so was Windows Vista and I don’t think anyone ever wants to use that operating system again.
And don’t forget the XFL is a circuit that is oh-for-two. The demise of the 2020 version was through no fault of its own, but it doesn’t change the fact that it didn’t reach the finish line.
Even though it won’t happen, I think a rebrand would be well-received from a perception standpoint. After all, the Johnson-Garcia-RedBird deal gave it new life, so why not give it a new identity?
As for talent among athletes and coaches, there is plenty to go around. And considering how the Canadian Football League can’t seem to figure out how to deal with its workforce in this summer of uncertainty, there could be plenty more down the road. Unless the CFL gets its act together quickly, American players might choose the XFL in an either/or situation.
While there’ll be no shortage of guys who can get it done on the field, I’ll be interested to see if big names like Bob Stoops and June Jones – who coached in the XFL last season – might want to give it another try. Following its collapse there were reports that the league owed Stoops more than $1 million and Jones nearly $600,000, so those significant financial details would need to be worked out to get them back on the sidelines.
Another question concerns the organization itself. Will it retain its single entity format and reboot the eight teams from 2020?
“I think there was a lot to build on,” Garcia told ESPN’s Kevin Seifert on Tuesday, “and not so much a matter of changing it. Any format change would be because of COVID-19. That would be the reason. The roots and the bones of what were there were excellent.”
So there conceivably could be a hub situation if they try to go to market in 2021 and the pandemic still isn’t under control, but even so cities will want teams to call their own. And some additions and subtractions involving franchises wouldn’t surprise me.
They’ll surely bring St. Louis and Seattle back, and I’d also think adding San Diego and San Antonio (cities that drew well during the failed Alliance of American Football experiment in 2019) might be smart moves as well.
Finding a smaller venue for New York if the XFL remains in or near the Big Apple is something to seriously consider. The L.A. Wildcats – located in the nation’s second largest city – had plenty of room at 27,000-seat Dignity Health Sports Park. Met Life Stadium was far too cavernous for the New York Guardians, but 25,000-seat Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, would be a nice landing spot for the XFL’s top media market.
And Orlando might be a better fit than Tampa Bay if the league plans to stay in central Florida. Officials now have the advantage of seeing where alternative football was a hit and a miss over the last two years and can plan accordingly.
Finally, one of the best things about the 2020 XFL was rule innovations. There were many I loved and not a single one I thought was bad, so I hope to see them dust off the rulebook and use it again.
The non-collision kickoffs might become standard in pro football sooner than later, and the “less stall, more ball” tweaks that made games move along more quickly were excellent.
“This is a Hollywood ending to our sale process and it is an exciting new chapter for the league,” XFL President and Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Pollack said. “Dwayne, Dany and Gerry are a dream team ownership group and the XFL is in the best possible hands going forward.”
Whether the XFL can safely start next spring is anyone’s guess. And like all non-NFL pro football leagues in the United States, the odds for sustained success are long.
But for now the XFL is back in business – and that, in itself, qualifies as an upset victory.