On Thursday, July 30, bids are due on the XFL and its assets. We should know by next week who will ultimately purchase the league in bankruptcy court, and potentially run it in the future. XFL President Jeffrey Pollack, one of the few league employees left standing after it shuttered operations in April, has tried to sell potential buyers on a “made for TV” multi-week version of the league in 2021, taking place in a single city, while operations would resume as normal in 2022.
Because we don’t know the new owner, or even who is bidding on the league, we also don’t know their intentions for the league. There are hundreds of permutations of what the XFL could look like in 2021 and beyond. Everything at this point is speculation. With that in mind, here are some of the potential bidders on the league and some of the pluses and minuses that could come with their purchase:
Disney: They were already in bed with the league via the television contract with ESPN/ABC in 2020, and are one of the most powerful media conglomerates in the country. They are one of the few who may not be affected as much financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. A Disney purchase would ensure the league remains visible on the biggest sports network (ESPN) and a major network platform (ABC). They’d have real stability from a monetary perspective well into the future. However, ESPN’s objection to its contract with the league being a part of the bankruptcy sale would seem to indicate they are not interested in the league without Vince McMahon’s backing. Could that be a hint that they won’t be bidding on it as well, or is this just covering themselves in case someone else buys the league?
FOX: The league’s other television partner in 2020, FOX comes with some of the same positives and negatives as Disney. FS1 and FS2 are not nearly the powerhouse sports stations as ESPN, and coverage of the league would diminish on Sportscenter and the like. A FOX purchase in theory doesn’t inhibit the ability for them to share broadcasting rights with an ESPN, for example. While much of FOX was actually purchased by Disney, the national FOX Sports stations and FOX network were not part of that sale. FOX also objected to their television contract with the league being part of the bankruptcy proceedings, but the language used in it revealed they are more open to working with new leadership. Regardless of who ends up owning the league, FOX may still be in play for the broadcasting of games.
Vince McMahon: McMahon reinvesting in the league could take many forms. He said during a deposition that while he once considered making a bid, he no longer will. Depositions are given under oath, so if he does find a way to land the league, he’ll be in hot water. So that could really be the end of the story. However, if WWE were to make a bid and NOT McMahon himself, could that be a way around the potential legal scuffle? Vince’s son Shane McMahon has been given odds of buying the league via MyBookie. I can’t see him buying it outright, but perhaps running it if it is bought out by WWE. Shane once wanted the company to buy and run the UFC during its trying financial times, and he has a history as a businessman. The downside of Vince having any part in the league is he has already shut it down twice and would probably have no compunction about doing it again. Also, who knows how much credibility in the business and sports world he lost by declaring bankruptcy in the first place (and his treatment of Oliver Luck, widely respected in both worlds). It could be difficult to make amends there and attract quality people. On the plus side, this is obviously a passion project of his and he seemed to steer the ship in mostly the right way in 2020. He might bring back the closest iteration of the 2020 league as anyone else.
NFL: This wouldn’t be the NFL’s first foray into minor league football, having also run NFL Europe. While XFL 2020 never competed with the NFL, it was seen as an alternative by some. That rebel spirit would be lost upon the NFL’s purchase. While the NFL is healthy from a business perspective, would they want the optics of purchasing and pumping hundreds of millions into the XFL while the NFL salary cap is likely to decrease next year and owners are losing out on avenues of revenue this season? Yet, a purchase by the NFL would make sure the XFL is relevant and solvent. NFL expansion into Europe seems fait accompli at some point, though the logistics could prove difficult; they could always dip a toe in the water by expanding the XFL there first. They could also use the league as a guinea pig, testing out potential rules and game play innovations, similar to how Major League Baseball has used its minor league system in the past. You’d get the highest quality of players with the NFL having a hand in it as well.
The Field: There are many others who could have an interest in the league. Any major network like CBS (they have experience hosting AAF games, which could be seen as a positive or a negative in sussing out their potential as buyers), NBC (NBCSN doesn’t have much outside of auto racing and soccer), Sinclair Broadcasting or Turner Sports. There are also individuals like Mark Cuban (XFL 2001 postseason media supplies quoted Cuban as saying if he was to buy another sports team it would be an XFL team – but 19 years is a long time) who could be interested, but I’d find that less likely than a major sports or media property.
For XFL fans, these last few months have been long and drawn out, much like the anticipation of the 2020 kickoff throughout the bulk of 2019. As many unknowns as there were then, there are even more now. So many fans are just holding their collective breaths, hoping for the best. In the next week or so, ideally, we’ll all be able to exhale a sigh of relief.
Greg Parks is a columnist for Pro Wrestling Torch (pwtorch.com). He covers the XFL and the Tampa Bay Vipers for XFLBoard.com. He has written extensively about the XFL. He resides in Naples, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @gregmparks.