The XFL schedules a return for Spring 2022
~Matthew Morhiser, Sports Editor~
Merely two short weeks ago on Oct. 1, the landscape of professional football was shaken to its core for the third time in nearly two decades. You would not know it, as it went relatively unnoticed in a time when sports should not be the foremost thought on anyone’s mind, but the XFL is back…again. Sure, we all saw the resurgence of the alternative football league earlier this year, and we all, through mythical urban legend or through the means of the wonderful 30 for 30 documentary ESPN and Director Charlie Ebersol released three years ago, know about the league’s original incarnation in 2001. However, did you know the XFL will be making its third return in the spring of 2022 thanks to the consortium of business venturists that purchased the league two months ago? The most recognizable name from the group, of course, is Hollywood’s highest paid actor, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) icon and star of the 2002 fantasy/adventure blockbuster The Scorpion King, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Through his official Twitter account, Johnson announced the return of the league in the first half of 2022, and specifically noted the XFL will represent a league of “culture, passion & purpose.” Johnson, along with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of The Garcia Companies and TGC Management Dany Garcia and Gerry Cardinale with investment firm RedBird Capital Partners, purchased the XFL for fifteen million dollars mere hours before an auction for its rights was scheduled to take place. The acquisition of the league for Johnson, Garcia and Cardinale comes after the league and the Alpha Entertainment Group, founded by WWE CEO Vince McMahon, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 11. In an official statement from the XFL, the COVID-19 pandemic was cited as the main reason for the filing, as they specifically say, “we were not insulated from the harsh economic impacts and uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 crisis.” Reportedly, the XFL lost tens of millions of dollars in projected revenue from the then upcoming playoff games.
Regardless, a month later on May 20, the league resumed operations in hopes of reinstating its staff, workers, coaches and players full time, but as part of the court agreement surrounding the bankruptcy declaration, McMahon willingly agreed to not purchase the league when it went up for auction. After agreeing to rework future television deals with Disney’s ABC and ESPN and Fox, the path was cleared for Johnson and company to officially stake their claim to the league with only seconds to spare.
Johnson and his cohorts have not released much information on their new outlook for the once-fledgling league, but if history has taught us anything about the XFL, luck has never been on its side. Initially a joint venture between NBC Universal Sports Executive Dick Ebersol and McMahon, the league quickly faded into obscurity after running against the National Football League (NFL) during its offseason. Citing subpar football performances, lack of name value among players, coaches and teams and too many “gimmicks” added to make itself different from the NFL, the XFL folded after its first, and then, only season. The league cost NBC and McMahon over $35 million in just one failed season. The choice to put wrestling legend and the thirty-eighth Governor of Minnesota, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, on color commentary and constantly zooming in on the lower halves of the scarcely garmented cheerleaders did not create enough of a staying power for the casual or family audience that a start-up league would so desperately need to stay afloat. It would not be till 2017 and the aforementioned 30 for 30 documentary when the XFL would reappear in the public’s eye.
In the press surrounding the documentary, McMahon expressed interest in reviving his gridiron side project. In fact, it would only take a year for McMahon and the Alpha Entertainment Group to officially announce the revival of the league on their official Twitter account in Jan. 2018. McMahon was so invested in the return of the league, he reportedly sold over $100 million in stock he had placed in WWE to fund the league’s reemergence. The new-look XFL resumed play after a 19-year-long hiatus on Feb. 8, 2020. With the creation of eight new franchises different from those of the league’s original run, the XFL also initiated a running game clock to shorten the length of their games, a new extra-point system that’s point value increased incrementally the further the offensive team was from the goal line and an enticement to return kickoffs, which the league viewed as a vital part to the game of football.
Ultimately, as mentioned several times over in this article, the league’s return did not last. After only five regular season weeks, the XFL put a halt to all football operations due to growing concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many other businesses across the nation, the XFL could not recover from an unexpected and abrupt cease of function. It truly was in a hard place. Luckily, that’s when a “Rock” stepped in to make the save.
The XFL has the entirety of 2021 to watch how the world adapts to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it also can see how other professional and college sport leagues handle the resumption of play. If one thing is certain, the third time has to be the charm. Hopefully.
XFL bankruptcy and acquisition information obtained from: https://www.espn.com/xfl/story/_/id/29224348/vince-mcmahon-says-try-buy-back-xfl-court-filing
Information on the XFL’s history obtained from: