For the XFL. It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
On Friday, The XFL suspended operations and terminated all team and most league staff. An apparent end to Vince McMahon’s second attempt to launch a new pro football league.
COO Jeffrey Pollack shared the news with nearly 400 people on a noon ET conference call that lasted about 10 minutes.
How did the XFL get to this point after showing so much promise as a viable and well-orchestrated pro sports league?
The March 20th cancellation of the season due to the coronavirus pandemic created a massive hole in league financial projections. It wasn’t the end all be all, but it didn’t help matters. The second half of the XFL’s season was going to help build the league’s foundation and set up its future.
With no profits in sight and only heavy financial losses on the ledger. The XFL lost half their earnings that they needed to survive to get to year two. The XFL had a specific budget in place going into years one, two, and three. It was a calculated balance of expenses and revenue. The league was always going to operate under a loss in year one, but with half of its profits gone from season one, the XFL was in an even deeper hole heading into a potential second season. The revenue from the league’s remaining 23 games were going to help float the league into year two.
With losses in year two now expected to be higher than projected due to the current and future business climate. The entire financial ball game changed for the XFL. The pre-COVID-19 XFL budget wasn’t built to survive a COVID-19 world. The business plan is different with the world as we now know it
The uncertainty surrounding the return of sports leagues in general, and in the form, for which they would have to be played, also contributed to the XFL’s end.
Sports leagues like the NFL, MLB, NBA, and others can absorb the financial losses and burdens headed their way. Startup leagues like the XFL can not. The world is in the early stages of a potentially deep recession that will no doubt affect the attendance of all events, provided that some form of public attendance returns in the future.
There was no mention of a 2021 season on the league-wide conference call, leaving open the remote possibility of the XFL coming back. But as of this moment, there is only a skeleton staff, and on Thursday, the XFL refunded fan deposits on 2021 tickets and would not commit to another season.
Normally, Skeleton staffs are usually in place to help with the transition of a company’s closing. The XFL appears to be at its end, and the remaining staff is on board to tie up any loose ends.
So how surprising was the XFL’s mass lay-off of their employees? Until just a few days ago, XFL business partners were operating under the assumption that the 2021 season was full-steam ahead. Head Coaches like DC Defenders Pep Hamilton, were creatively finding workarounds to the current environment, by still communicating with players and staff members, and preparing for year two. Team execs like the Dallas Renegades Daryl Johnston were confident that the league was headed for another season.
XFL employees were paid out through April 12th and for remaining vacation/personal days. On Friday morning, There were a few team executives who received larger than normal paychecks. An ominous sign that something was awry. Execs were told they’d hear more on benefits soon.
Anyone who was realistic about the XFL’s chances before the COVID-19 pandemic knew that the XFL was going to be fighting an uphill battle to survive. The odds were heavily against the league, to begin with. No one in their wildest dreams or nightmares, as it were, could have foreseen a worldwide pandemic as the reason for the XFL’s potential downfall.
It feels wrong to compare the XFL to other football leagues that were discontinued in the past like NFL Europe, the AAF, the UFL, USFL, and even the original XFL. The current XFL never really got a fair chance to live or die on its merit or failures.
The time will come when a proper eulogy should be written about what the league was and what it could and might have been. Hope will still remain that the world will be a better place so that the XFL can one day return and exist again. Hopefully a future exists where it’s a real possibility.
The XFL did so many things right. It was an innovative pro sports league. Exceptionally well run, fan-friendly and forward-thinking. The league just existed at the wrong time.
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