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Disney, XFL Reach Distribution Deal

Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia announce XFL TV deal at 2022 Disney upfront
Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia announce the XFL's TV deal at the 2022 Disney upfront at New York's Pier 36. (Image credit: Disney General Entertainment/Jennifer Potheiser)

Pro football fans will get to watch a second spring football league in 2023 as the upstart XFL league Tuesday reached a multiyear distribution deal with the Walt Disney Co. and ESPN to air all of the league’s regular-season and playoff contests.

The XFL, owned by a group led by actor Dwayne Johnson, will launch February 18, 2023 and will air all of its regular season games on ABC, ESPN, and FX, the parties announced during Disney’s upfront presentation Tuesday. The agreement also includes exclusive content rights across ESPN’s digital, social and direct-to-consumer outlets such as ESPN Plus

“The XFL will tap into sports fans’ deep love of football by emphasizing competitive action while dedicating itself to innovation and entertainment,” said Jimmy Pitaro, chairman, ESPN and Sports Content in a statement. “You can see a great path to success when you combine the reach and influence of ESPN and Disney with the collective vision of XFL leadership led by Dany, Dwayne and Gerry.”

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Johnson, along with business partner and wife Danny Garcia and RedBird Capital, led by founder and managing partner Gerry Cardinale, purchased the league in August 2020 from World Wrestling Entertainment chairman and CEO Vince McMahon. 

The XFL initially launched in 2001 as a collaboration between the WWE and NBC but was shut down after one season. McMahon resurrected the league in 2020 but ceased operations in the middle of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The deal comes as competing Fox Sports-controlled spring football league the USFL continues its inaugural season with games airing on Fox and NBC.

Johnson said the Disney-XFL deal is a “definitive moment” for the league. “We’re excited to be working with global visionaries that are aligned with the XFL’s values, are true team players and share our ambitious goals to grow the XFL as a global sports and entertainment business,“ he said. ”Through the combined power of Disney and the XFL, together we will create a new powerhouse on the sports calendar and bring a dynamic game of football to fans everywhere. Time to ball out.” ■ 

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.