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Inside Story Revealing The End Of The XFL-CFL Collaboration

Our plan for alignment is so complicated and multi-layered that I fear that all the top decision-makers won’t sign off on any of our final options. We have exhausted so many possibilities for alignment that will significantly benefit both sides, and we have used analysis to break down why this would work financially. Still, we keep hitting snags in these talks because we can’t get everyone on the same page that shares in the same vision.

*Anonymous source involved in the XFL-CFL alignment discussions- May 10th, 2021*

The XFL-CFL Collaboration talks are over, for now, and most likely forever.

The XFL and CFL had extensive discussions about aligning their leagues in a business structure to develop a multi-platform global football enterprise. The leagues even enlisted Boston Consulting Group, a prestigious global consulting firm, to provide feedback, potential solutions, and actionable strategies to aid the process.

RedBird Capital Partners, Dany Garcia, Dwayne Johnson, XFL CEO Jeffrey Pollack, and the CFL discussed many potential opportunities for alignment. In recent times, the two sides had narrowed down their options, even getting to the point where both sides relied on analytics to nail down the financial numbers as to what their alignment could be worth to networks, streaming partners, and sponsors. But ultimately, the two entities were unable to align their visions moving forward.

As they often say in business, the last 10% of a deal is the most challenging, particularly in an equal partnership. There’s another old saying that goes, “it takes two to tango”. Well, in the case of the XFL and CFL, the potential dance between both leagues needed to have multiple dancing partners all in lockstep. The talks ultimately broke off because while some of the CFL’s leadership/owners were impressed and blown away by the XFL’s global plans, business strategies, and innovations, there were others who had hesitancy and were uncertain about how to operate in an alignment structure.

CFL franchises like B.C, Calgary, Montreal, and Toronto, and others were receptive and in some cases, the most bullish on the XFL’s grand plans. At the same time, some of the other publicly owned franchises like Edmonton were hesitant to push forward.

There’s a feeling amongst the CFL’s board of governors that despite all the financial losses expected in 2021 and incurred in the last couple of years, that things might stabilize in the future with single-game betting and the potential for league growth in 2022 and beyond.

Some of the CFL’s top decision-makers genuinely see their talks with the XFL as positive and constructive. RedBird Capital Partners brought many great ideas to the table during these lengthy discussions that informed the Canadian teams of all the possibilities and potential for creating multiple revenue streams. Some of which could still be utilized in the future by the league’s teams, but some CFL franchises are content with avoiding risk and maintaining the status quo.

In a strange roundabout way, the XFL helped the CFL recognize its value and potential. Whether or not the Canadian league can evolve and capitalize on it remains to be seen.

From day one, the XFL-CFL talks have been falsely characterized. The term “Merger” has been thrown around quite a bit in the last few months, arguably in some cases to drive fear or to create engagements.

While many possibilities were discussed between both entities, the two leagues never got to that point.

Another false characterization was that RedBird Capital was stepping in with their significant resources and finances to help keep the CFL afloat financially or that they would take an interest in one of the league’s struggling franchises. None of this speculation turned out to be genuine.

The latest misrepresentation comes in the form of the narrative derived from the reaction to both leagues’ official statements announcing that they were tabling their talks.

Many believe that the end of these talks results from one side (the CFL) breaking off the discussions rather than the other side (the XFL) deciding to move forward on a different path. At best, the proper representation would be that the decision was mutual.

What’s next for the XFL and CFL?

For their part, here is the official statement from the CFL on both leagues jointly deciding not to pursue a formal arrangement.

Our talks with the XFL, exploring the potential for collaboration and innovation, have been positive and constructive.

While we remain open to finding new ways to work together in the future, we and our XFL counterparts have jointly decided to not pursue any formal arrangements at this time.

We at the CFL are now squarely focused on preparing for August 5th and the start of our  2021 regular season, which will culminate December 12 with the playing of the 108th Grey Cup in Hamilton, Ontario. We are looking forward to this year and a bright future for our league. 

Randy Ambrosie
Commissioner
Canadian Football League

The XFL also released a statement through their league office to XFL NewsHub.

“While our discussions with the CFL did not ultimately lead to a collaboration, the effort reinforced our belief and commitment to developing the XFL for international spring football. We look forward to seeing everyone for kickoff in spring of 2023.”

The brief statement released by the XFL left some interesting nuggets of information if you read between the lines carefully.

Firstly, The XFL will not be returning to the field in 2022, but that’s been public knowledge for quite some time and reported on this site. For months, the honest debate behind the scenes was when and how the XFL would let everyone in on what has been evident since the league publicly revealed that they were in discussions with the CFL.

It’s now official that the XFL won’t be returning to the field of play until 2023, but that was going to be the case and plan even if the CFL and XFL had aligned.

Although not yet confirmed by the league office, it’s safe to assume that the XFL could potentially resume their search for a Chief Football Officer to oversee and run the league’s football operations. The XFL was in the midst of an extensive search to fill that respective role before the CFL discussions began.

The next bit of interesting info in the XFL’s statement is two-fold. #1, acknowledging that the CFL talks ultimately did not lead to an alignment but that the efforts reinforced their commitment towards “international” spring football. Reading the tea leaves on this one is not very challenging.

The grand plan that the XFL had intended to implement with the CFL is moving forward with or without them. As for the international side of things, that’s a developing story for another time.

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

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. David Tress

    July 8, 2021 at 11:39 am

    Doug Flutie sank the XFL. First he announces the USFL for 2022. Then he comes forward and says he doesn’t want any tinkering with CFL rules. The XFL should play CFL rules football.

  2. Bull

    July 8, 2021 at 1:03 pm

    The irony is that people thought the leagues were on equal footing. The CFL with its measly 100+ years of history, and the XFL with its two failed attempts. If the CFL backed away, it is very likely the right thing to do as the XFL is not at the same level, yet.

  3. David Tress

    July 8, 2021 at 1:57 pm

    It appears that Doug Flutie sank the XFL’s 2022 season. First he makes an announcement of the USFL for 2022 with a TV deal, then he steps forward and says he doesn’t want any tinkering with CFL rules. The XFL should have agreed to CFL rules because it was a matter of survival.

  4. Jordan

    July 8, 2021 at 10:43 pm

    Cant kill Canadian Rules football in a merger. It was never gonna happen unless XFL adopted CFL rules, just like i said before

  5. 4th&long

    July 9, 2021 at 3:46 pm

    Mike – Great article as always. One question, and I don’t think you touched on it here or elsewhere – including today’s the_markcast.
    Last year you wrote that RBC was not going to spend any money on XFL without a lucrative TV deal in hand. To me that means min. covering over 50% of league costs, likely more.
    What has changed now that RBC is ready to open the Wallet?
    Thanks.

    • Mike Mitchell

      July 9, 2021 at 4:32 pm

      Thank you for checking out the article. I believe that the push back to 2023 is designed to line up the league’s grand plan and to line up their rights partners as well. RedBird’s Alec Scheiner mentioned in an interview a few months back that they realize how expensive the XFL endeavor will be. It goes without saying how expensive it is to run a pro football league, to begin with, and you don’t invest in an endeavor like this unless you have that realization.

      • 4th&long

        July 9, 2021 at 6:36 pm

        That makes sense, but it puts them back to Oct 2020. Looks like they’ll still need a paying media rights deal before they move forward? Perhaps anyway.

        And that would illuminate why the wanted the CFL on board, existing TV contract in Canada & 60+ yr old league makes a rights deal in USA easier. But as M Perry reported some in CFL didn’t see enough $ from XFL deal to balance the risk (TSN’s Farhan Lalji).

        Thx Mike – Keep up the good work!

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