Football is more than just a popular sport—in America, it’s a way of life. Millions of fans tune in yearly to support the NFL and their favorite college teams during football season.
There’s a void left in fans’ lives and social calendars once the NFL and collegiate-level seasons end. In recent years, an ambitious project titled XFL (the Xtra Fun League) has tried to fill that void, gain a share of the massive football market, and steal the hearts of the American public.
Unfortunately, despite its best efforts, the XFL fell flat in a big way. In this article, we’ll look at how this football league came into existence, how it bombed and tried to make a comeback, and how it seemed doomed to the pages of history—until it was finally revived by the incomparable Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
Birth of the XFL
The XFL was born in 1999 as a joint venture between World Wrestling Entertainment (called the World Wrestling Federation at the time) and the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). Banking on the assumption that fans wanted more football action after the NFL and college football season ended, the partners launched XFL as a minor league that would provide a full season of football games to fill the void.
Said to be the brainchild of Vince McMahon, co-founder of the incredibly popular WWE, the league was to present traditional football with a showman twist similar in style to the WWE. To achieve this goal, XFL games featured stripped-down rules, numerous cheerleaders, and alluring cinematic and marketing techniques.
The first season of XFL took place in 2001, starting just one week after the Super Bowl. At first, reception exceeded expectations set by NBC, and fans seemed to enjoy the showmanship of the sport. However, this didn’t last long.
Soon, many football fans started questioning whether or not the games were scripted like WWE matches had been. The organizers denied any scripting, and the league’s credibility grew. Soon, sportsbooks and betting facilitators, such as your favorite casinos on mobile devices, started accepting bets for the league’s games.
However, fans quickly tired of the league and started tuning into other programming. Following a nosedive in ratings, NBC declared that it would no longer broadcast the second season the following year—despite being a co-founder of the league and under contract to do so.
After losing over $75 million between the two investors, McMahon declared the league a colossal failure, and the project was officially abandoned. McMahon retained the rights to the XFL name during this time but did nothing with these rights until decades later.
In 2018, McMahon officially announced his decision to revive the XFL after the league attracted attention from a 2017 ESPN documentary, This Was the XFL. This time, however, the league was not part of a joint venture or under the umbrella of the WWE.
Instead, McMahon sold around $100 million of WWE stock to incorporate a new company called Alpha Entertainment. This media group was listed as the owner and operator of the XFL and gained an additional $270 million in funding from further liquidation of WWE stocks in 2019.
The new XFL played its inaugural 10-game season in early 2020. Halfway through the season, the COVID-19 pandemic ground the world to a halt. On March 12 of that year, the XFL announced the cancellation of the remainder of the season.
Less than a month after the cancellations, the league suspended all operations and let go of all its staff. Three days later, McMahon and the XFL filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy—effectively shutting down once more and going up for sale.
A Hero Emerges
Set to be sold at auction on August 3, 2020, the XFL was purchased just hours before it went up for grabs by none other than former WWE star Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson. In partnership with his ex-wife, Dany Garcia, and friend Gerry Cardinale, the dream team purchased the XFL for $15 million on August 7.
Under the management of the Rock, the XFL was set to begin a new season in 2022. However, the league entered into talks with the Canadian Football League, and the resulting negotiations delayed the return of XFL games until 2023.
The Rock signed a deal with the Walt Disney Company and ESPN to secure broadcasting rights for XFL games across ABC, ESPN, and FX channels. Finally, the XFL was officially scheduled to begin its season on February 18, 2023, with a broadcasting deal slated to be in effect until 2027.
The 2023 season saw a good kick-off, with an average viewership of 1.3 to 1.5 million per game. Throughout the season, the XFL recorded decent viewership and attendance at live games. By the end, it had recouped $80 million of the $140 million the season had cost. Based on financial projections, the league is expected to finally turn a profit by 2026.
The XFL’s Success
Although the eight XFL teams’ players are drawing crowds and putting on a show, many have attributed the successful relaunch of the XFL brand to one of its owners: The Rock.
While some claim that the Rock bought the league solely to turn a profit, Johnson revealed that his true reason for saving the league was that he knew what it was like not to make it to the NFL.
The XFL could be a second chance for talented players, and Johnson says he wished a league like this existed when he was a young player at the University of Miami. If it had, the Rock may still have had the football career of his dreams.
With the Rock’s passion for football, the XFL may stand a real chance of succeeding. While the action is still just picking up, the XFL’s solid first-season reboot, multi-year contracts, and ongoing merger talks with the USFL (United States Football League) make the likelihood of success all but assured.
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