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XFL in Exploratory Talks With Canadian Football League

(Image credit: XFL)


The XFL said it has started talks with the Canadian Football League about a possible collaboration, a move that will delay its previously planned spring 2022 launch. 

The XFL wouldn't say what it is talking to the CFL about, except that it is working with the league to “identify opportunities for the leagues to collaborate, innovate, and grow the game of football.”

While neither side mentioned a merger, the XFL said in a tweet that its 2020 season is “on hold pending the outcome” of its talks with the CFL.  Some reports said that meant the league would restart plans for the season once talks left the preliminary stage.

The XFL emerged from bankruptcy last year after it was purchased by former wrestler and current movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, his ex-wife Dany Garcia and Red Bird Capital, an investment fund headed by former Goldman Sachs banker Gerry Cardinale for about $15 million.   

“Since we first acquired the XFL, we have focused on identifying partners who share our vision and values on and off the field,” Garcia, the XFL chairwoman as well as part owner, said in a press release. “A vision filled with opportunity, innovation and the highest level of entertainment value for the benefit of our athletes, fans and communities. The CFL has expressed that similar sentiment and jointly we recognize a great opportunity to build exciting innovative football experiences that make the most of each league's unique strengths. I look forward to our continued discussions and we will update the sports community as we have more to share.” 

The XFL, created by WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, has a storied history. While the earlier version of the league crashed and burned after one season in 2001 amid low ratings and a string of bad luck, the latest iteration was supposed to be more serious, fast-paced, fan-centric and family-friendly. But the league was hit hard by the pandemic, ending its 10-game regular season in March 2020 with five games left to play.   In early April, it laid off most of its workforce and suspended operations. 

The Rock and his team stepped in in August, promising to create “something special for the players, fans, and everyone involved for the love of football.”

The CFL too was broadsided by the pandemic, canceling its 2020 season (opens in new tab) after the Canadian government rejected its request for a $30 million loan last year. The league has announced its 2021 schedule, but there are questions as to whether the ongoing pandemic will affect attendance at games, its primary source of revenue. 

“Canada has an exciting game and devoted fans, and our discussion with the XFL provides a tremendous opportunity to build on that strong foundation,” CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a press release. “We look forward to exploring how we might work with one of the most innovative sports brands in the world to grow the game, engage fans in new ways, and reach new audiences. We look forward to seeing what possibilities our discussions might uncover, and to sharing those with our fans as the process unfolds.”

Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.