The XFL is coming back. Slowly emerging out of prolonged darkness and back into the light again. The league officially rebranded today. Gone is the old look, but it’s fair to question if what made the league so great in its buildup from 2018 to 2020 is also fading away. The new black and white themed logo may be the first glimpse of that reality.
What’s clear as day is that the new XFL will be entirely different from the league many fell in love with two years ago. There will be more signs of that as a crescendo of league announcements are made in April and May.
The New XFL
“I acknowledge the past but choose to define the new”- XFL Co-Owner Dany Garcia on XFL 2023’s future.
Back in November, at this site, I wrote about how dramatically different the league would be from the last iteration. Now that it’s slowly becoming a reality. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on the new leadership’s direction. We are starting to see a glimpse of the new vision now. The new owners are putting their stamp on the league they want to present moving forward. Change is always inevitable. But one has to wonder if abandoning the spirit of the league in 2020 is the right course of action.
After all, when you look at this situation clearly, RedBird Capital Partners, Gerry Cardinale, Dany Garcia, and Dwayne Johnson could have started their own pro football league. But instead, they bought the XFL for pennies on the dollar out of bankruptcy caused by a pandemic.
The question is, what were they buying for 15 million dollars? The property was the name and its trademarks. It’s obvious that they saw value in what the XFL was accomplishing in 2020 and wanted to keep that alive. They bought a specific brand and the built-in equity that came with it. Was the league bought to build upon what it was or what the new leaders think it should have been? It’s evident with the rebranding that the new group wants to put their own spin on the XFL.
The argument for XFL 2023 being better than the league that came before is the collective experience of lessons learned from the last iteration and previous leagues in this space, from the few people involved with the new XFL, that were in the trenches before.
New XFL Cities
The changes on the horizon go beyond the league’s new look. Sources indicate that there could be as many as three new cities amongst the XFL’s eight teams in 2023. New York Guardians supporters might not be happy with what they find when the teams are announced officially. There are also growing rumors that LA and Tampa could also be among the 2020 league’s extinct list. Potentially replaced by another west coast and Florida named team. Update* Orlando and Las Vegas have been mentioned as strong possibilities.
It’s worth noting that none of this has been made official or confirmed yet by the league. But the idea of new cities replacing old ones is already in the ether with reports of San Antonio joining the XFL.
Dwayne Johnson, many months ago, went on CNBC to tell everyone that the league would have new cities. So the departure from some of the old league brands is not really news.
Because the clock is ticking on the XFL getting back to the field. The question becomes whether the league will be able to effectively get into markets and set up shop the way they did back in 2019/2020. One would think, that with the pandemic, seemingly under control, with fewer restrictions, the goal of selling tickets in eight markets would be vital for the XFL’s financial success.
However, there are many who believe that the newly rebranded XFL could opt for a hub setting, perhaps in a tax-friendly state like Texas, to control costs in the lead-up to 2023. But after a three-year wait, if such a setting were to come to fruition, financially sound or not, it would rightfully be seen as a failure. And quite frankly, a step back from what the league was in 2020 when they had enthusiastic crowds and markets embracing the XFL product. A beer snake in Dallas during a Defenders game just wouldn’t be the same.
As it pertains to the coaching side of things, the cat’s out of the bag on now-former Virginia State head coach Reggie Barlow, who is one of the league’s head coaches. Presumably in San Antonio, although there are sources close to the league suggesting that Barlow might be coaching DC instead. Reggie Barlow may not be the only former recent player turned coach who will be leading the charge for XFL teams.
* Update: Reports have come out that Terrell Buckley has signed on to coach in the XFL with Orlando.
Recent scuttlebutt suggests that up to as many as six head coaches in the XFL will be former players who have recently dabbled in the coaching ranks.
The XFL’s new leadership group is definitely taking an outside-the-box approach when it comes to deciding who will run their football teams. One that will mirror what NBA franchises have done for decades. The success of Deion Sanders at Jackson State has opened up a new doorway for former players as head coaches.
There are also rumblings that there will be a couple of prominent coaching veterans among the league’s eight head coaches. But don’t expect more than one or two of the league’s head coaches from 2020 to return.
It’s not because successful coaches from the last iteration like June Jones and Winston Moss didn’t want back in, it’s just that the XFL’s new leadership wants to go in a different direction. Jonathan Hayes, who did a fantastic job in St. Louis, also appears to be out of the loop. It’s a mistake for the league to not include these coaches. But the new leadership group wants to start fresh with their own ideas.
Out With Some Of The Old, In With The New
There are some key figures from the successful startup operation of the XFL in 2020 back with the league.
On the marketing side, Janet Duch and Jordan Schlacter have returned as Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Business Officer, respectively. Russ Giglio is back as Director of Player Administration and Officiating Ops, and Brad Campell has returned as Director of Football Technology. Bobby Monica is also back in the fold in equipment operations. On the football ops side of things, Doug Whaley has returned as Senior VP of Player Personnel.
There’s no denying the value of bringing some of the soldiers back to war from the XFL’s last iteration. But some key figures are missing from the league’s last go-around.
Like former Director of Football Ops, Innovation, and Strategy Sam Schwartzstein.
XFL 3.0 may adopt a few of Schwartzstein’s innovations from 2020, the same way the USFL has for its upcoming season. But the XFL has decided to move on from someone who contributed greatly to the league’s research, development, and innovations that were so widely embraced and applauded. For whatever reason, the ideas and innovations are good enough to utilize and keep, but the person behind them wasn’t.
Now former XFL president Jeffrey Pollack is also gone from the league. Replaced by Russ Brandon. Pollack did an amazing job building up the league on the business end. He hired exceptional team presidents and adroitly helped plant the seeds for the league’s success in their eight markets.
Commissioner Oliver Luck, who helped bring great credibility to the league on the football side, oversaw a tremendous group of rock star individuals who worked in the league’s offices like Stephanie Rudnick. Luck who is embroiled in a lawsuit with former XFL owner Vince McMahon is gone from the new league, along with many of the people who did the heavy lifting for him behind the scenes from 2018-to 2020.
Former Director of Player Personnel, Eric Galko, who is now the director of football ops and personnel for the East-West Shrine Bowl, is not back with the league after being one of the most vital members of the XFL back in 2019 and 2020. Galko could be an ally in the future for the XFL when it comes to scouting intel. Because of his previous working relationship with Doug Whaley. But his presence as a full-time member of the league will be missed.
Also missing from the XFL in 2022 and beyond is a social media star, Bailey Carlin. One of the strongest aspects of the last iteration of the XFL was its social media team. Bailey Carlin, the XFL’s social media editor, and the entire team, many of whom have moved on to run social media for other pro sports teams, were among the best attributes of the XFL.
The league’s critically acclaimed social media team was ahead of its time and changed the way sports teams and leagues have interacted ever since. Matching what the XFL’s social media team did in 2019/2020 won’t be easy. They helped endear so many people to the product.
The new XFL team with some returning figures has a lot to live up to when it comes to what the people who worked for the league delivered two years ago.
The Jury Is Out On The XFL’s New Leadership Group
Despite the impressive background of the XFL’s new leadership group. It’s fair to scrutinize, doubt, and take and wait and see approach with them. They have to prove themselves first.
There’s no denying the success and business acumen of Gerry Cardinale and RedBird Capital Partners. Their track record of making big-time deals with major players in the sports world speaks for itself. Cardinale and RedBird are heavyweights in the sporting and business industry. But the bottom line is that this is their first foray into running an entire pro sports league. It’s a vastly different universe than buying into ready-made entities like Liverpool FC or partnering with established brands like the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys.
Among sporting ventures, starting a pro football league is arguably the most challenging endeavor anyone can sink their teeth into. Betting and bankrolling on a sure thing is different from attempting to build something from scratch with a negative track record.
RedBird Capital Partners might find that out the hard way. Aligning everything for the XFL thus far hasn’t come easy for them. And there’s a reason why they didn’t dive into the project of relaunching the XFL immediately.
RedBird has taken its sweet time since buying the XFL in the summer of 2020 to strategize a business plan that could work. Underline the word “could.” Because Gerry Cardinale and his partners know what a hulking task this is, RedBird is not accustomed to gambling on the unknown. They are diving into the deep end of a pool with no swimming experience. Once the cash register opens, there are no life rafts to save them from drowning from this point forward.
There’s also no denying the success that Dany Garcia and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson have had in the business and entertainment industry. Garcia and Johnson are one of the most successful duos in both fields.
As it pertains to promotion and drive, Dwayne Johnson is a force of nature, tirelessly pushing whatever he is aligned with and doing it endearingly. But at the end of the day, neither Johnson nor Garcia has ever run a sports league, and it’s never been their wheelhouse. They have no experience in this field, and perhaps they will do whatever successful leaders have done in the past. And surround themselves with people who are adept at navigating the ins and outs of running a football league.
Celebrities or rich individuals will often buy into sports teams and leagues for vanity reasons. It’s a different category of virtue signaling on a grand scale, where you purchase something that has public notoriety for the value of building up your own self-image and worth. Hopefully, that’s not the case with Dany Garcia or Dwayne Johnson. The tandem is easy to root for, and it would make for a heck of a story if they were to succeed in an area that no one has.
Dwayne Johnson’s story as an athlete that has gone from rags to riches as an out-of-work football player would make for a Hollywood full circle type ending if the XFL prevails where others haven’t. The discarded pro football player helping create an avenue that keeps dreams alive for other players would be poetic justice.
The story of Dany Garcia as a female owner of a sports league is an inspiring one. Although, technically, she is not the first woman to accomplish that feat. The legendary Billie Jean King was a co-founder of World Team Tennis and the first female commissioner in pro sports history. King also became WTT’s main league owner in 1984 before retiring in 2001.
Dany Garcia becoming a successful co-owner of a pro sports league would be an amazing story and set a great example for all aspiring women in the industry. There’s no doubt about that.
There is, however, doubt about Garcia, Johnson, and RedBird Capital when it comes to owning and operating a sports league. They have never done it before. For better or worse, they are making the XFL their own. The league they saved from death is returning from the grave for a second time. The name remains, but will the spirit of what it was, be the same? It’s not looking that way. The XFL’s new look might be black and white, but the shades of grey leave an impression of uncertainty and doubt.
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