fbpx
Connect with us

CFL

An XFL-CFL Hybrid League That Could Actually Work

The XFL and CFL are in deep talks about making their futures work together. Will it lead to a full-scale merger between the two leagues, and how would that work exactly?

Discussions between both the XFL and CFL are on-going, and there is so much that needs to be sorted out between the two leagues.  

The bottom line is that the XFL wouldn’t be in pause mode for 2022 if these talks were merely a standard working agreement, where the leagues share players, ideas, business opportunities, cross-promotion, etc.

There are two things that supporters and many current/prospective XFL and CFL employees don’t want to hear: Firstly, that the XFL will not be returning to play in 2022, and secondly, from the CFL side, that their 3-down style of football will be no more. 

With the CFL, and its most ardent longtime supporters, there’s the issue of shunning its history, and with the XFL, it’s all about redirecting and further delaying its uncertain future.   

How does one go about marrying two different leagues and all of their concepts without enraging all the in-laws that get roped up into this marriage? Can the two leagues find a happy medium to become one without alienating the fan bases or their employees?

Before we can proceed towards what an XFL-CFL hybrid league could look like on the field. Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way, which is of utmost importance.

OWNERSHIP STRUCTURE

As presently constituted, the XFL is a single-entity model with all of its teams owned by the league itself. In this case, Dany Garcia, Dwayne Johnson, Gerry Cardinale, and RedBird Capital Partners. 

Unless the XFL decides to change that model and start selling off individual franchises, which would be a challenging task in any environment, let alone the current landscape, the league figures to stick with its single-entity approach for now. 

The CFL’s nine teams have six private owners and three community-owned. (The Edmonton Football Team, Saskatchewan Roughriders, and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers). The estate of the late David Braley owns the BC Lions. 

Any potential merger could disrupt and alter many of the current business dealings and relationships that the CFL has. Deciding how to split the economic power between both leagues could be very difficult to navigate. That’s provided that the leagues don’t operate separately. 

There have been rumblings in the past that some CFL franchises are unwilling to proceed without the league undergoing a grand reorganization plan. That’s where the XFL comes into play. 

Reports are that the CFL lost upwards of 50-80 million dollars due to the cancellation of their season in 2020. 

Consider this; there were indications that the BC Lions, Toronto Argonauts, and the Montreal Alouettes lost more money in 2019 than they did last year with the cancelation. The reports track because of those teams’ abysmal attendance figures. (BC 17k, Montreal 17k & Toronto 13k avg)

The CFL’s regular-season attendance in 2019 was down for the eighth year in a row. Largely because of the struggles of Montreal, Toronto, and BC.

The continued financial struggles are why some CFL teams are motivated to see what the XFL can offer. 

Barring a full-scale buyout by RedBird Capital of the CFL. Finding a way to make the different ownership models work together will be crucial and challenging. 

The conversation between both leagues is more straightforward. It’s a matter of three questions,  what can we do for each other, what do we want to build in the future, and how can we help each other do that? The sooner the XFL and CFL get to those answers, the faster they can journey in a new world together.

AN XFL-CFL HYBRID LEAGUE

One of the best selling points about the XFL in 2020 was their goal of reimagining football and how it was presented on and off the field. 

To a large extent, the XFL succeeded in doing so with great fanfare. College Football, The NFL, and sports leagues will be copying what the XFL started in 2020. It’s already started.

Evident in the social media of sports teams and in the rules/innovations that leagues are looking to adopt/borrow from the XFL in the future. (See the Sky Judge/Officiating/Technology/Overtime/Gambling etc.)

The fun part about this potential unity between the CFL and XFL is to reimagine a merger concept. And you can borrow some elements from the past while also retaining the individual personalities of each league. 

Humor me for a bit and imagine, if you will, the XFL and CFL being run as two separate conferences/leagues. With both leagues playing their seasons side by side at the same time. Similar to the early days of the AFL and NFL before their merger. 

An 18 team league. Nine XFL teams, with the addition of one new expansion team. Perhaps San Antonio or Birmingham (Smile AAF fans) and the nine existing CFL teams. A model that can expand to twenty teams by year two of the merger. 

Like the early days of the USFL, The CFL and XFL could play a five or even six-month schedule starting sometime after the Superbowl that runs until the summer. With inter-league games distributed evenly throughout the season.

In theory, the season can start sometime after the Superbowl and go right up until the start of NFL training camps or even the NFL season. The timeline still gives players from both leagues a chance to latch onto NFL teams, and ultimately, this timeline keeps the leagues away from competing directly with the college game or the NFL for attention. 

There’s one caveat to all of this besides the weather in Canada in potentially March. TSN, the CFL’s TV partner, from sources I have spoken to, wants the league games on their networks in July and August. A season that extends into late August would be pivotal for the Canadian Game’s best tv partner.

From the spring until the summer, the XFL and CFL can own the football calendar. Imagine weeks during the season, where there are five straight days of XFL and CFL games on TV every Thursday through Monday. (So that games from both leagues can run unopposed.) With multiple TV and streaming partners airing the games.

At season’s end, once the playoffs conclude and an XFL and Grey Cup champion are crowned, those two teams play each other in an ultimate championship game.

Sounds bizarre, right? Except that’s what the Superbowl was initially. AFL champ versus NFL champ. At the time, that particular concept wasn’t viewed favorably and was characterized as a gimmick.

Here’s the kicker and the million-dollar question, What rules do these two leagues play?

The answer; there’s no need to abandon the rules of either league. The merger can incorporate some of the great concepts from both leagues. (Gambling, officiating, the kickoff, forward motion, punt rules, etc.)

Ultimately this pipedream vision is that the CFL plays games under their rules, and the XFL does the same. 

In interleague games, the home team plays their league’s rules. By doing this, you don’t have to search for or modify any fields in Canada or the United States. 

It sounds crazy and maybe a bit gimmicky, but the St. Louis BattleHawks traveling to the Toronto Argonauts during the season to play a game under CFL rules would be fun. Tough on the road team for sure, but not uncommon for sports teams playing interleague games under different rules.

I realize that there’s a big difference between this, in terms of competitive advantage, and for example, the DH rule in baseball, but it’s not entirely out of left field. (pardon the pun). Interleague games would not be the norm and wouldn’t greatly affect either the CFL or XFL during a season.

The makeup of all 18 team rosters in year one can also lend itself towards keeping some of the same territorial style rules that the CFL already has and that the AAF implemented. 

Ultimately, this type of hybrid league would be a ‘when worlds collide’ type concept. It’s a longshot and far from perfect, but it’s a way to keep both styles of league play intact.

THE ENDGAME

What is the end game after all for both the XFL and CFL? To expand their league’s reach and grow in popularity. 

In this type of merger, the CFL can expand its business model and reintroduce its game to a new audience while reinvigorating its product in its own country.  

For the XFL, they can do a lot of the same. They can journey into an area that the NFL hasn’t captured. The way that the NBA has with the Toronto Raptors. 

Setting aside the obvious financial risks of going big. Having an 18 team league for the XFL specifically means more games, which in turn means more ticket sales, more games to sell to sponsors, and more games to sell to network and streaming partners. 

The possibilities are endless for producing complementary reality-based content and creating revenue streams for both leagues as one. Especially with Dany Garcia and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson involved. 

One of the reasons that first-year leagues struggle to maintain a large share of TV audiences is directly correlated with their size. Fewer markets are interested in the games when you have a modest amount of teams. Revenues are also limited when you are only selling the league in eight or nine cities. 

In a way, the XFL merging with the CFL is both of them doubling the size of their leagues.

There’s a catch to all of this madness in playing fantasy league builder. 

To accomplish this monumental undertaking effectively, it’s very likely that we don’t see an XFL-CFL merger-style league play out in March of 2022. There will be way too many moving parts to make this all happen in less than a year. It’s not impossible but not probable.

At the end of the day, the reality is that this might end up being a situation where the XFL’s style and rules make their way into Canada, with a new CFL emerging. And with the old CFL fading away for a new fresher model. Until then, I can dream, right?

In 2019, I had this same dream when the AAF launched, and the XFL was on the horizon heading towards 2020. A scenario that I envisioned and hoped for was an XFL-AAF merger by 2021 or 2022. Business as it often does and did put an end to that fantasy.

I never figured that the CFL could be taking the Alliance’s place in my pipedream scenario. The thing with this new dream, though, is that business might get in the way again.

I am a credentialed reporter and writer. Over time, I have covered and followed the NFL, NCAA, and multiple football leagues intensely. Like the USFL, CFL, WLAF, NFL Europe, AAF, UFL, and of course, the XFL. You can follow me on Twitter @byMikeMitchell

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Chris Bennie

    March 14, 2021 at 11:31 pm

    The XFL has always claimed to be an alternative football league. Wouldn’t 3 downs on a bigger field with unlimited offensive motion be kind of alternative???? Play the CFL game with XFL kicking rules and your set!!

  2. Darcey McLaughlin

    March 15, 2021 at 9:19 am

    I am not saying that a full-on merger between the XFL and CFL is going to happen, but we shouldn’t dismiss it.

    As is pointed out here (and elsewhere) the CFL lost tens of millions of dollars by not playing last year. But they would have lost even more playing without fans because the CFL is a gate-driven league.

    On top of that, the league has been struggling for years financially, in part due to poor attendance in their three largest markets.

    Toronto hasn’t supported the Argonauts for years. The last time was really the mid-90s when Bruce McNall, Wayne Gretzky and John Candy owned the team and they signed Raghib Ismail. Everything has been tried since to get fans interested. Nothing works. The general feeling is Toronto sees itself as a major league market and nothing short of an NFL team will be successful.

    BC’s drop in attendance can, for now, be explained by a poor record. The Lions averaged 30,000 in 2012 and even in 2016 averaged 21,000.

    But Montreal is a concern. They average 25,000 in 2010, but attendance has been dropping ever since. They had a good season in 2019, finishing second in the East, but couldn’t win back the fans.

    But even with the prairie (Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatchewan) doing well, the CFL is in trouble.

    Ratings are down and interest in waning.

    The league has been in trouble before. The late 80s and early 90s were not kind to the CFL and they embarked on expansion in the U.S. because it meant an injection of expansion money and also hope that U.S. success would lead to more revenue.

    Some in the CFL even suggested changing the name of the league. So that has been floated before.

    After the failure of the U.S. expansion, the league leaned into its Canadiana and they found a full-time home at TSN (Canada’s ESPN).

    This gave the league a bump in profile and popularity and the ratings were good. But the emergence of a strong competitor to TSN at Sportsnet has hurt the CFL to some extent.

    Sportsnet now has the NHL contract and that is big in Canada. The NHL rules the sports landscape in Canada. Nothing else comes close.
    Having the NHL move from TSN to Sportsnet means all those eyeballs watching NHL playoffs in the spring no longer see the flood of CFL commercials they used to see on TSN.

    In addition, the growth in popularity of the NFL in Canada in the last decade has been incredible. More and more people are watching, buying the merchandise and gambling on the games.

    In Ontario, for example, half of football fans in that province now say they only watch the NFL and only a fifth say they exclusively watch the CFL. There are three CFL franchises in Ontario (Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa). The southern Ontario region is home to 35 per cent of the entire population of Canada. You need these folks to be CFL fans and, increasingly, they aren’t.

    In the Prairies, the story is different. Just one out of every six football fans there say they watch the NFL exclusively but the population isn’t enough when it comes to selling your product to sponsors and to make up for revenue problems in the larger markets.

    The league has talked for years about expanding into Halifax on the east coast, and there has been some movement, but there is no telling how long that might take. There was also once talk of an expansion into Quebec City, but the decline in popularity in Montreal could be an issue there.

    The Canadian government is not willing to help. The league asked for money last year to help get through the pandemic, but the best the government could do was offer a loan. The league declined.

    So if the CFL is really in as much trouble as they are, a merger with the XFL could work. They’d have investors with deep pockets involved, they’d gain access to the U.S. market. Also, having teams in major U.S. markets could spark renewed interest in places like Toronto, Montreal and B.C. (Vancouver).

    The XFL, meanwhile, gets a lot of experienced people that know how to run a league and they are all in place. You could just run the league out of the CFL office.

    They’d also have access to Canadian advertisers and television.

    And it adds legitimacy to the XFL. They would be able to trace their history back to the 1960 and they could gain a championship trophy that is one of the oldest (first awarded in 1909) and most respected in North American sports.

    So I’m not saying a merger is going to happen, but if it does, don’t be surprised.

  3. Robert Shmigelsky

    March 15, 2021 at 11:25 am

    The problem with not playing under the same field dimension is the CFL game prefers a slimmer body type whereas the players in the American game obviously prefers a larger type. Some players could play in both leagues, but simply put, there are American players would bust a lung playing the Canadian game.

  4. Mike

    March 15, 2021 at 12:53 pm

    This is the American expansion of the 90s all over again. If you remember American teams had no Canadian players by labour laws in the USA. Do we really want to go down that road again?

  5. justin

    March 15, 2021 at 1:16 pm

    could yup Toronto Montreal and B.c. can start early with there domes and by time march hits it’s no different then November and late November is -20c at times …..its just time we been hemorrhaging since the NFL separated itself in 1982 with the strike and took off from the CFL ….its still our teams and some rules will come and when government doesnt care about the CFL then it’s time to XFL CFL merger and slow like AFL NFL DID!!!

  6. Sloth

    March 15, 2021 at 2:30 pm

    Some really great ideas in this article. One big issue is in Canada TSN may not want to compete against playoff hockey.
    The bigger issue is around Labor Day games at the end of August. These are huge games in the CFL with sellout crowds..
    A May-October could work well.

  7. Don Kenny

    March 15, 2021 at 5:04 pm

    I am a huge C.F.L and I think the discussions that are taking place are a breath of fresh air. great article and comments as well, Lets get er done folks.

  8. Dirt Wednesday

    March 15, 2021 at 9:16 pm

    They may wear the same equipment, use the same ball, and share some terminology, but they are very different games and to suggest teams play each other with home country rules is hilarious. Just ask my mom, a longtime Blue Bomber fan, about the American rules. I took her to a Titans game and she didn’t know wtf was going on! Canadian game is faster, played on a larger field with 3 downs and 3 phases. American game is a slower chess match with highly skilled players, 4 downs and only 2 phases (why even bother with American special teams? Boring!)

  9. Brian Fradette

    March 16, 2021 at 12:23 am

    I think the XFL fully converting to CFL rules and field size would make the most sense. For one thing you have the 108 year history of the Grey Cup that would remain intact, and the historical stats and records, both of which would add “legitimacy” to the “new” league. Smaller and lighter players can excel in this environment, and fans can rightfully think of the league as an elite league that caters to these types of athletes who are more suited to the nuances of the 3 down, large field game, as opposed to the “size and strength” style of NFL game.

    March football is only an issue on the prairies, and those teams simply starting the season on the road for their first 3 games and a bye week is an easy solution. Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto all have domes to serve as secondary fields (and Regina’s stadium was designed to be “roof-ready” should the new league be a hit, and if the economics make sense down the road to spend the capital on that).

    The XFL marketing itself as “XFL – Canadian Rules Football” would be terrific.

    As for the “Canadian player ratio”, just get rid of it. I dont see Americans complaining about their hockey teams being filled with Canadians, and I dont see Raptors fans caring that their team is really an American team. These are pro clubs, not national teams.

  10. Shane

    March 24, 2021 at 12:33 pm

    As a Canadian I honestly believe that the 3 down football is what ha caused a lack on interest and why the cfl is losing fans there is almost no run game and lots of punts I think a combination of rules of 4 down longer field US punt rules, Canadian ball, Canadian motion rules, I think it could work I played Canadian football rules for 10 years and I can honestly say I hated 3 downs and I think 4 downs will get more people interested

  11. william stallings

    May 9, 2021 at 2:15 am

    first for the xfl i think they should scrap some if not all their current teams and place teams in cities that currently have no nfl teams.or other spring and summer time sports,,and expand to 10 teams..cities i would recommend birmingham [who will have a new sports stadium ready} san antonio, st.louis,,,san diego, san jose,,omaha,tulsa{or oklaoma city} columbus ohio, orlando, salt lake city or boise.what about the major markets most of these cities are in football crazy markets..each of these cities are large markets the league should invest and promote cooperate sponsorship in each city,give each city time to build a loyal fan base much like the old afl in the early 60’s.if the xfl expands to 10 teams then so should the cfl prehaps into nova scotia again..

  12. Tsnamm

    August 14, 2021 at 6:55 pm

    There is still a base of CFL fans in the US, from the American expansion that led to the first non Canadian Grey Cup winners, Both Baltimore and Birmingham did well.
    The XFL kickoff rules are excellent and have garnered interest in NCAA and NFL. With a good TV and streaming deal, and some kind of revenue sharing of broadcast revenues, they might have a good shot. Before covid shut down the XFL, the ratings weren’t bad, and the play on the field was pretty good. I agree with William that the XFL ought to focus teams in those major US cities without NFL teams like San Antonio, San Diego, St. Louis etc. The CFL already has an expansion planned for Halifax NS, as the Atlantic Schooners.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More in CFL