XFL President Jeffrey Pollack: Hopefully we’ll be headed to a relaunch at the right time

According to Jeffrey Pollack, President and Chief Operating Officer of the XFL, via Bloomberg, we have been given a reminder that the XFL was a valued entity and will be sold to the highest bidder.

“We are in the middle of a sale process,” Pollack said. “Bids are due July 30. In just a few short weeks here we’ll know the future of the XFL, who the new owner will be, and hopefully we’ll be headed to relaunch at the right time.”

On July 30th, the bidding process will be complete, and the new owners of the XFL will be announce in early August.

“Were it not for the pandemic, we would have had a phenomenal first season and I would say probably the best launch of a new sports league in the last 30 years, if not ever,” Pollack said.

In the Bloomberg interview, Pollack went on to talk about how the XFL got to where it is today.

“We launched on February 8 this past year. Everything was starting to work and click in a really good way, and unfortunately like so many other sports and entertainment properties and so many other businesses the pandemic really put a hard stop on everything that we were doing and we subsequently filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and that’s the process we’re working through right now.”

“The decision to stop the season, the decision to file bankruptcy, both decisions were heartbreaking and frankly unimaginable,” Pollack said. “Our shutdown and our bankruptcy filing had nothing to do with anything other than the pandemic. Our business was working, our proof of concept was successful, and we were on our way to a phenomenal first season.”

From Mike Mitchell, and a well-placed source, the  XFL was on track to make $46M in revenue for the 2020 season, but only made $20M for the partial season they played.

Today, in a wide ranging article about bankruptcies in the USA, Bloomberg reported, “Vince McMahon, lost tens of millions of dollars in revenue when it canceled the remainder of the XFL season and fired about 500 football players. As it prepared to file bankruptcy, McMahon lent the company $9 million with its assets as collateral, but he withdrew his bid to buy it out of bankruptcy in time for the 2021 season after other creditors complained. Now the company hopes to sell itself to another buyer in an auction next month.”

It should be noted that the point that McMahon had planned to purchase the XFL out of bankruptcy has recently been refuted by McMahon.

Confirmed. XFL bids are coming in

According to Axio, the XFL has set July 30 as the deadline for formal acquisition bids. This information was confirmed through a reliable source by independent journalist Jai Nokes.

It is also confirmed that the XFL has “prospective bidders coming from both the media/entertainment and pro sports worlds.”

It seems that there is a “greater than-expected interest” for entities that may be ready to purchase the league.

Although the deadline for formal acquisition bids is July 30, the winning bidder is scheduled to be announced on August 7th.

XFL Auction set for August 3rd

XFL Auction

According to Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal, the XFL will have a new owner on August 3rd.

The date was selected Judge Laurie Selber Silverstein, who split the difference between the timetable preferred by the XFL and the one wanted by the league’s creditors. Even though the auction will be settled on the 3rd, the sale will be confirmed four days layer.

Last week it was revealed that there are already twenty potential buyers that have signed non-disclosure agreements, and are potential bidders for the purchase of the league. It is also rumored that one of the interested parties is Fox/Disney.  There is no proven veracity to this rumor, as of now.

Regardless of who has interest in purchasing the XFL, there is hope that the league will return in 2021.

Unbelievable interest in the gutted XFL

From a report in The Athletic, twenty different bidders have submitted non-disclosure agreements to begin negotiations to purchase the XFL.

By all reports, the “robust market” has come as a surprise to the firm Houlihan Lokey, the XFL’s global investment bank that is handling the deal. In fact, they expect six additional contenders to join the negotiating process, which they do not expect to complete until September.

To assist in keeping itself viable, it is reported that the XFL has begun discussing extending stadium leases.

“I understand the debtor has modeled for 2021 a made-for-TV, 12-week tournament-style approach to its business, since the XFL is particularly well suited for a crowd-free experience that could thrive in the current environment, given its existing innovations such as in-game audio from players and coaches and live on-screen sports wagering information,” Houlihan managing partner William Hardie said.

Just prior to the XFL filing for bankruptcy in mid-April, the league gutted itself by laying off players coaches and staff in each of the eight XFL cities. A skeleton crew remained on payroll in the XFL head office, however its well-regarded Commissioner Oliver Luck was sacked. Luck, who left the NCAA to accept a $20 million per year role with the league, has now filed a lawsuit against XFL owner Vince McMahon for wrongful termination.

Prior reports suggested McMahon was part of an investment group that was vying to purchase the XFL from bankruptcy. However, McMahon has debunked this rumor in a deposition released this week, where he confirmed he would not be back with the XFL.

Is this the end of the XFL? Only Vince McMahon Knows

Will the XFL be back? Only Vince McMahon knows the answer.

The XFL suspended operations Friday morning and has laid off nearly all of its staff, with only a handful of executives remaining in place in order to complete the shutdown.

In short statement relayed via the Twitter account of ESPN national NFL writer @SeifertESPN, the message was, “Given the uncertainty of the current environment, the XFL has suspended operations and is evaluating next steps.”

A change of plans

It was only a few weeks ago that the XFL canceled its remaining season as part of a nationwide shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, at that time, XFL COO Jeffrey Pollack pledged that the league would be back in 2021.

However, it is rumored that a recent evaluation of the league’s finances warranted a drastic change in plans.

XFL Employees laid off

On Friday 10 April, XFL employees were told they were laid off in a 10-minute conference call from Jeffrey Pollack.

“The XFL as an entity has been hard hit and is affected more directly than most in the sport industry,” Pollack told staffers. “We had no alternative than to stop right in the middle of our first season, just as we were continuing to build our foundation and our future. As a result of the pandemic’s impact and given the uncertainty we are now living with and facing, the decision has been to immediately suspend day-to-day operations of the XFL in Stamford and each of our eight markets. What this means is that everyone’s employment by the XFL is terminated, effective today.”

Pollack then told employees that funds had been deposited into their bank accounts, “providing your earned, but unpaid salary through April 12, plus payment for accrued and unused vacation time.”

It should be noted that the given layoff date of April 12th was only two days in the future.  This must have been an additional shock to most employees, who may now be wondering how they will pay their bills.

Pollack also indicated that a “small skeleton” staff would be present in Stamford, Conn. to allow employees to collect personal belongings from the XFL office, though the coronavirus prevention measures in place meant that the logistics of that move have yet to be determined.

Pollack assured them that the layoffs “had nothing to do with your performance or what was achieved.” He ended by saying that it has “been my absolute pleasure and honor to work with all of you… I appreciate, love and respect you all.”

Almost immediately, on social media, many former employees expressed shock in the sudden decision. Later, a few more even expressed dismay that their corporate email accounts were shut off so quickly.

It has also been reported that players were surprised by the sudden decision, and were not officially notified.

The league announces it’s departure with a cheap gif

The only official message to the outside world, including fans and players, was an animated GIF of actor Jake Gyllenhaal waving goodbye. Nothing more.

“Ceasing operations” is a serious decision

It took the league two years to build a head office and teams, with coaches, staff and players. Ceasing operations and sending everyone home is a sure sign the league won’t be back for at least two years. 

Some staff may be remaining in Stamford, but the word is that they are only there to complete the league’s business.  The implication is that they will be laid off as well, once everything is wrapped up.

Why did this happen?

The word is that finances are the reason.  By all reports, the league was originally well-funded, and was budgeted to have the money to operate for three seasons. However, the league’s first season was already cut in half, meaning that their first year’s revenue plan was already derailed. With the second season looking like it was in jeopardy, or at the very least, would consist of teams playing in front of empty stadiums, the league would have been looking at a second year of very low revenue.

Financial projections likely indicated it would run out of money before it had a chance to play another down of football. If the league remained in operation, and did not play, it would just hemorrhage money until the bank account was empty.  The only logical decision was to quit now, and retain the remaining funds that were originally set aside for the league.

It is also believed that the devastatingly depressed stock market had a role to play in the league’s financial fortunes.

It should be noted, by all reports, the XFL is paying its employees out until the lay-off date, and continuing to honor player contracts. It is also expected that they will pay their bills and not leave any creditors wanting payment as they shutter their operation. This is something the original XFL did when it folded in 2001. The expectation is that this version of the league will do the same.

Will the XFL be back?

People who are close to the league are convinced that this is the end of the XFL.

However, it is logical to say, that by shuttering the operation now, and saving the remaining money that was set aside to fund the league, could mean the XFL could be fiscally viable to continue once the COVID-19 crisis is completely over.

Many will admit it does not look good for the league. However, it is well-known that this league is an ongoing vision of Vince McMahon. Does this mean we can expect the XFL to return once the COVID-19 crisis is over?

Only Vince McMahon knows the answer.

XFL Seattle Dragons running back Kenneth Farrow is optimistic

Kenneth Farrow
Seattle Dragons running back Kenneth Farrow (Credit: XFL.com)

In a shortened XFL season, Seattle Dragons running back Kenneth Farrow was just getting started. But the dream season ended when the XFL had to cancel its remaining games, essentially cutting the season in half.

“It kind of took everybody by surprise,” Farrow said, referring to the sudden end of the XFL season. “We kind of saw everybody else falling and felt we weren’t too far behind.”

Farrow recalled that once the NBA season and “March Madness” were cancelled, they knew that the XFL season was sure to be the next to go.

And it was.

Speaking from his home in Houston, instead of preparing to play week eight of the XFL season where the Seattle Dragons were scheduled to travel to Dallas, Kenneth is staying safe and practicing good social distancing.

“I’m back in Houston and everything’s good. I’m feeling great,” Farrow said. “So just kind of trying to stay indoors and stay away from everything that’s going on right now.”

Still he can’t help but feel blessed to have been part of the XFL’s Seattle Dragons, even in the truncated first season.

“That was a fun time. Anytime you get to go out there and play in front of millions on TV, you know, that’s kind of what you live for,” he said. “It was definitely a great opportunity for us to get out there and be able to showcase what we got on the football field.”

Also, being part of a team is an essential part of what gave Farrow the feeling that the opportunity of playing in the XFL was worthwhile.

“Being able to be a part of the team and, you know, make new relationships with new guys that we played against each other and maybe never had chance to be on the same team. So, it’s definitely a fun opportunity for everybody,” Farrow said.

Farrow should be satisfied with his XFL 2020 performance. In a crowded backfield, he shared running back duties with Ja’Quan Gardner and Trey Williams.

“We had a little rotation going there. Keeping everybody fresh,” Farrow explained.

The three running backs gave the Seattle Dragons strength in the backfield, something Farrow considers to be an important part of their game plan.

“That was going to be kind of a strength of our team and you know, kind of looking back, we were able to run the ball. It was pretty effective.”

Considering the season had just hit the halfway point, we wonder how the Seattle running game would have evolved to become. Of course, this is something we will never know.

Farrow was marginally the top Seattle running back with 38 carries for 156 yards, an average of 4.1 yards per carry. He had one touchdown, a pass into the end zone from quarterback Brandon Silvers in the game against the Dallas Renegades.

YouTube video

 

Surely though, there was more to come.

Last year, Farrow was a standout running back with the San Antonio Commanders. During week four of the AAF season, Farrow recorded 142 yards on 30 carries against the undefeated Birmingham Iron’s second-ranked defense, to lead San Antonio to a 12–11 victory. He was named the AAF Offensive Player of the Week for this effort. Unfortunately, the AAF season was cut short after week eight when the league suspended operations.

With the XFL season being cut this year, one might think this must sound like déjà vu for Farrow.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” Farrow said. “I kinda saw it coming and I kind of expected it, a little bit more than maybe some of the other guys.”

Still, he takes the setback with a good attitude, and is taking his off-time as an opportunity to work with the “Grind with a Purpose” Foundation, something that is near and dear to his heart.

“It’s a mentorship program, we do with inner city kids out here,” Kenneth explained.

“We started back in 2017 in Houston and we’ve done a couple of sessions in Seattle. We were able to get to an elementary school and kind of talk with some kids there. But out here in Houston we’ve had about 80 kids total go through the program. It’s like a 10-week program, just character building and trying to teach the kids better ways of going about their daily lives.”

Kenneth reports that he has brought in other Seattle Dragons players such as BJ Daniels and Trey Williams to help out with the foundation.

Next week the foundation plans a live Instagram broadcast, as they are continuing their work even in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.  People should look for more information on Twitter @KennethMFarrow or on the website grindwithapurpose.org

As for Farrow, when asked where we may see him next on a football field, he leaves all options open, and is positive about being able to step up in his career.

“I’ll definitely get an opportunity at the next level,” Farrow said optimistically. “And go in there and take full advantage of it. Whether it be the NFL or the XFL, I definitely think I’ll put tape out there to show that I can still play at a high level.”

We all know a good attitude can often lead to opportunity, and we wish Kenneth Farrow all the opportunities we know he deserves.

“You know, who knows,” Kenneth said. “Who knows where I land next. But, I’ll definitely be ready when that time comes.”

You may hear a longer interview with Kenneth Farrow in Episode 32 of the XFL Xtra podcast
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When faced with officiating controversy the XFL continues to strive for transparency

Saturday’s Seattle-Houston game ended prematurely while there was still a chance for Seattle to attempt a play that may have tied the game. (Twitter: Tim Donnelly)

In the first three weeks of the inaugural XFL season, officiating went off without a hitch. Calls were made by on-field officials, and many were quickly confirmed by the official in the booth, while many other decisions were overturned. All the while, as booth decisions were made and transmitted to on-field officials, the conversation was also broadcasted to fans, creating a chain of communication that was open and transparent.

Fans loved it, especially since the XFL is the first league to be so transparent in their officiating decisions. On top of being good communication, it also gave fans a special insight into game. It was like they were now a part of the decisions.

However, week 4 of the XFL marked the first “blown” call under this system. It was in the 2nd quarter of the “Texas Showdown” between the Dallas Renegades and the Houston Roughnecks where Dallas tight end Donald Parham reached out over the goal line with ball in hand, and was awarded a touchdown. However, a replay showed that the ball had slipped out of his hand just before it crossed the goal line. Unfortunately, even though all scoring plays are supposed to be reviewed in the XFL, the touchdown stood, and the reason behind the decision was not immediately explained.

Suddenly, fans saw the XFL not being open and transparent about a call.

Fortunately, a short time later, Dean Blandino, the Head of XFL Officiating, was seen on the broadcast admitting the play should have been reviewed, and that the league would strive to do better in the future.

After the week 4 Blandino explanation, all was well again. After all, fans could not expect the XFL to get it right every time, could they? Besides, they were working on it, right?

Unfortunately, in week 5 of the XFL, ugly officiating made a return to further haunt the league.

At the end of a thrilling Houston Roughnecks game against the Seattle Dragons, Houston quarterback PJ Walker attempted to kill off the game clock on 4th down, and kneeled with two seconds still left to play. Officials declared the game ended and even left the field. Meanwhile, the broadcast media was crying foul, as 2 seconds was enough time for the Seattle Dragons to attempt one last play into the end zone, and if successful, there would have been the potential to tie the game.

Fans were not impressed. Most were disappointed that they were left with no explanation, other than the broadcast media interpretation that the Seattle Dragons had been cheated.


On Saturday evening, a few hours after the game ended, the XFL released the following statement:

“Saturday’s Seattle Dragons-Houston Roughnecks game should not have ended as it did. Replays showed clearly that the knee of Houston quarterback P.J. Walker touched the field, rendering him “down” and the fourth-down play officially completed, with approximately two seconds remaining on the clock – effectively turning the ball over to Seattle on downs. With a nine-point differential in the score, Seattle was denied an opportunity to tie the game. The XFL sincerely regrets this error. In addition, Wes Booker, who served as Officiating Supervisor for Saturday’s game, has been reassigned.”

Clearly, the XFL is striving to maintain the perception of transparency, something that has been a hallmark of their officiating in the early part of the season.

In a post week 3 interview, Dean Blandino remarked that transparency was the goal, and he hinted that having top officials was part of the XFL’s success up to that point in the season.

“I think transparency helps. I think sometimes it’s circumstance. Sometimes things just happen that are out of your control.” Blandino explained. “But I think we’ve got a really good staff of officials. All of our officials are division one college football officials and they’ve been very good for a very long time, and they’ve really worked hard to pick up the XFL rules.”

Still, the impression is that this is a work in progress. Based on the XFL’s reaction to the latest incidents, they appear to be working hard to make necessary corrections.

But will the fans understand? Probably. A certain level of understanding has already appeared in the XFLBoard discussion forums:

At least they admitted the mistake and there were consequences.
— Metallifreak10

I really have to admire the league for stepping up and taking responsibility for the error. Undoubtedly, this same incident won’t ever happen again in the league and at the end of it all, that’s all we can really hope for or expect.
— Firecop

Clearly, the fans can be led to understand these type of situations, if the league remains open and transparent in their decisions.

James Butler makes the most of his opportunity with the Houston Roughnecks

YouTube video

 

James Butler, a native of Wheaton, Illinois, and a graduate of the St. Francis High School football program, played college football with the University of Nevada Wolfpack.

After college he was signed as an undrafted free agent to the Oakland Raiders. However, Butler did not see a regular season game, and in fact, he was cut by the Raiders four times. They must have liked him, because they kept bringing him back, but Butler never saw any significant playing time with the Raiders.

After the Raiders, Butler even had a short stint in the CFL, but the prospect of a pro football career eluded him until January 2020 when he received a call from the Houston Roughnecks of the XFL.

In fact, James Butler had just finished a workout for the Green Bay Packers, and was in Green Bay airport when he received the call. Still, Butler jumped at the chance to join the Roughnecks, who had already started their pre-season training camp.

Fast forward to Week 3 of the XFL, and James Butler is the number four rusher in the XFL with 130 yds and two touchdowns. In his latest game with the Roughnecks, Butler carried the ball 7 times for 72 yards, averaging 10.3 yards per carry.

When told his stats, Butler was surprised by the numbers.

“I was trying to make the most of every opportunity,” he said.

“A lot of guys in my same position are getting that opportunity that we wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for the XFL giving all these guys an opportunity. And as you can see a lot of guys are starting to flourish from the XFL,” James explained. “As you can see the whole world is watching, so it’s just awesome that guys like me can just take advantage of these opportunities that we’re given.”

And Butler seems to be making the most of his XFL opportunity. His performance is even more surprising since he is part of an offense that is better known for its passing game. As it is turning out, having a potent running game is making the Roughnecks even more powerful.

Butler modestly described the Roughnecks as an all-round great team.

“Great quarterback, great receivers and you know, coach June, dialing up the plays. An, you know our defense has really been stars too. So, I just felt like we’ve done really well as a collective,” Butler said.

Being on a successful pro-football team is fun for Butler. He spent Monday morning on a local morning show, “Wake up Houston,” and he said he enjoys being in the spotlight, but he quickly deferred to the fact that the entire team is enjoying the attention Houston has been giving them.

“I feel like this whole team is in the spotlight. It’s awesome that we have a whole team of guys who are just doing great things and making the most of the opportunities,” he said. “We’re still just trying to go out and win every game, win as many games as we possibly can, and just take advantage of these opportunities, because we know how many eyes are now on this team.”

Houston fans have embraced the Roughnecks, and they have literally embraced Butler since he has made a habit of jumping into the stands after he has scored a touchdown.

“It’s called the ‘Houston Hop’,” James said. “We also want the people watching the game and at the game to have a blast. I really feel like that’s a way to really get people involved.”

The fans seem to love it.

To hear more from James Butler’s interview check out XFL Xtra -Episode 26
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Dontez “Speedy” Byrd is flying high in Seattle

Going into week one of the XFL, Seattle Dragons wide receiver Dontez “Speedy Byrd was fulfilling his topmost desire, and that was to play pro-football.

After his senior year at Tennessee Tech, where he had a stellar year catching 78 passes for 1,003 yards, and six TDs, Dontez could only imagine getting onto an NFL roster. After spending time with the Atlanta Falcons in the 2018 NFL pre-season, and with the Memphis Express of the AAF in 2019, he remained a free agent.

Being out of football, Dontez had expressed a desire to play in the XFL for a while. Finally the Seattle Dragons came calling in January 2020, and offered to fly him to Houston in the middle of a busy training camp.

Byrd did not hesitate to jump at the opportunity.

“Sometimes you never know when you’re going to be called, or when the opportunity is going to come, but when opportunity is given, you can’t leave any doubts,” Byrd said.

In other words, Dontez strongly feels that such an opportunity should not be taken lightly, and he has demonstrated this on the football field. After joining the Dragons, Byrd has proven he deserves a spot on the Dragons starting roster by his performance in game one of the XFL season, where he impressed by catching two passes for 34 yards, including a beautiful catch along the sidelines while he was being covered closely.

“I know when my number is called, I got to make that play,” Dontez said modestly. “Not only is my coach depending on me to make that play, but a lot of my teammates are depending on me to make plays as well.”

After a loss to the Defenders in the first week, Byrd claims the Dragons learned from their mistakes, which allowed them to beat the Tampa Bay Vipers in the next game.

“We went into DC for our first game. We learned a lot that game, and had some things we needed to get fixed in order to get the win against the Vipers,” Byrd explained. “We went back to practice the week after we played against DC and got better as a group and really just honed down on the details and got ready to go against the Vipers.”

It seemed to work. Now, the Dragons are focused on their next opponent, the Dallas Renegades. Dontez also pointed out that this next game is a divisional game, which makes it all the more important.

“It’s our first conference game. So, we need to take this game very serious and get a win.”

We will be watching for Dontez “Speedy” Byrd this Saturday 20 February, when the Dallas Renegades play the Seattle Dragons at 2PM PST at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

To hear the entire interview with Dontez Byrd, check out the XFL Xtra Podcast – Episode 25
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XFL Week 2 attendance saw growth due to good numbers in Seattle

Oliver Luck
XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck stands in front of over 29,000 fans in Seattle’s CenturyLink Field. (Credit: XFL.com)

In its second week of operation the XFL overall attendance numbers grew, mainly because of 29,172 fans who attended the Seattle Dragons first game at CenturyLink Field.

In week two, the league attracted 76,285 fans to its games, as opposed to 69,818 in week one. This equates to a 9.5-percent increase.

Although Seattle saw success in their inaugural game numbers, the two teams that already hosted their inaugural games saw slightly lower numbers. A slightly lower 15,031 came to see the DC Defenders 27-0 win over the New York Guardians, 12.4 percent down from the previous week’s game. The Houston Roughnecks had 17,103 in attendance for their 28-24 win over the St. Louis BattleHawks, four-percent down from their opening game.

In the Los Angeles home opener, the Wildcats had 14,979 fans in attendance at Dignity Health Sports Park for their 25-18 loss to Dallas. This was the smallest crowd to date, but still a respectable number.  Click-bait news sites attempted to downplay the LA attendance by using social media images taken during the pregame warm-up which showed the stands relatively empty. However, as is a norm in the LA market, the stands filled out nicely once the game was underway.

A packed CenturyLink Field also gave the Seattle Dragons a boost, since fan noise became a factor for the opposing Tampa Bay Vipers.

In week three, the XFL may see even stronger overall attendance numbers since there is another home game in Seattle, and the opening home game in St. Louis, where it is reported the game is very nearly sold out.