TORONTO — Anything and everything, it seems, will be on the table with the CFL and XFL poised to begin serious discussions on a potential partnership.
And it would appear, at first glance, both have something that could be beneficial to the other.
The XFL, with actor and former pro wrestler Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson as an owner, will bring money, influence and a solid business acumen to the table. Johnson, a former CFL player, is a larger-than-life figure with global appeal.
Johnson has over 15 million followers on Twitter and that figure swells to over 220 million in Instagram.
His involvement in the XFL alone should result in many of his supporters tuning in once the league resumes play. Another positive, too, would be Johnson’s influence and appeal within the Hollywood community.
And then there’s the business acumen of Dany Garcia, the XFL chairwoman and owner. She’s not only successfully managed the career of Johnson — her ex-husband — but also owns Seven Bucks Productions, a company that’s been responsible for such movies as “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” as well as “Hobbs & Shaw”, the spinoff from the Fast and the Furious franchise.
Johnson and Garcia, alone, form a dynamic 1-2 punch that has tremendous appeal to both the general public and investors, alike.
RedBird Capital Partners, who in 2020 partnered with Johnson and Garcia to purchase the XFL for $15 million, also has serious financial clout. According to the XFL website, the investment firm manages over $4 billion in assets.
The CFL didn’t play in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a move that reportedly resulted in the league losing between $60-80 million. That’s a significant hit for a nine-team circuit that’s heavily dependent upon ticket sales to generate its operating revenues.
The league has been steadfast in its desire to resume play in 2021, but the question remains exactly when will that be? The current schedule is slated to begin June 10 with all nine franchises playing 18 games, but it wouldn’t be surprise if that is pushed back as more Canadians receive their COVID-19 vaccinations.
Regardless of when the season begins, the CFL could require startup money to get going, given the hard financial hit it had to take last year. Last year, the league looked to the Canadian government for financial assistance in the form of a $30-million, interest-free loan.
Ottawa was willing to offer help but with a loan that was to be repaid with interest. When the government refused to provide interest-free assistance, the CFL cancelled its plans for an abbreviated 2020 season.
Conventional wisdom, therefore, suggests the league would again need at least $30 million to get up and going, especially if games are initially played without fans in the stands. And given the XFL’s deep pockets, a partnership with the CFL could include money for the Canadian league although Garcia was adamant that the “money concept,” was “the furthest thing from the truth.”
What the CFL does offer the XFL is an established, historical product. It has franchises firmly entrenched in nine Canadian cities with infrastructure and operations in place.
It can provide the XFL a tool by which to expose its product north of the border and chance to get away from the gimmicky approaches the league took in its previous reincarnations.
The CFL also has sentimental value to Johnson. He joined the Calgary Stampeders in 1995 after his collegiate career at Miami, hoping to ultimately land in the NFL.
But it didn’t happen. Johnson never played for Calgary, being released from the club’s practice roster.
So Johnson followed in the footsteps of his Canadian-born father, Rocky, and became a professional wrestler. The rest, as they say, is history.
While Wednesday’s announcement made headlines all over North America, it did accentuate another troubling trait for the CFL. Although the league and XFL had seemingly been speaking for weeks, commissioner Randy Ambrosie apprised the CFL Players’ Association of the talks on Wednesday.
Throughout the global pandemic, Ambrosie has steadfastly stated the importance of the league and players being partners moving forward. And once again, the CFL has moved forward alone before bringing the players back in tow.
CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay hasn’t spoken publicly about Wednesday’s news, only taking to social media to say the union’s priority remains returning to the field in 2021.
But it could be suggested Wednesday’s news has put more pressure now on the CFL to make sure a ’21 season happens. That’s because any partnership with the XFL would be for 2022, at the earliest.
If there’s no 2021 season in Canada, it’s hard to imagine the league existing, at least in its present state, in 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press