COLUMN: The XFL should be kicking off today; they aren’t, and it’s the right move
The second season of XFL 2.0 should be kicking off this weekend. But it’s not.
The second season of XFL 2.0 should be kicking off this weekend.
But it’s not.
It’s not because Alpha Entertainment LLC, the holding company of the XFL, declared bankruptcy last April amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
And it’s not because the new owners, Dany Garcia, Dwayne Johnson, and Gerry Cardinale of RedBird Capital, decided to wait until 2022 to kick off.
They were right to do so.
Though we only have this statement to go on, we can assume the new owners made this decision for two main reasons: (1) the continuing uncertainty of the pandemic; and (2) the inability to get a structure in place to make the league effective in such a short amount of time.
Number one is referenced in the XFL’s statement. Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Pollack mentioned “…for the safety of our players and our fans…” One thing we learned in 2020 was it was difficult to predict what the next few weeks would be like living with COVID-19 let alone months down the line.
In September, at the time this decision was made, there were still questions of when, how quickly, and how many vaccines would be distributed (and to whom). Then, we got the unexpected news of mutations to the virus that make it easier to catch and potentially more dangerous. There was also the upcoming presidential election, the results of which could’ve drastically affected how the virus was handled at the federal level.
Even today, stadiums across the country are only partially full, if fans are allowed at all. That would cut a major revenue stream of the league. If a bubble was used, similar to the NBA last year, then you’d have to add in the cost of testing players and personnel on a frequent basis, and the potential of no fans at all in the stands.
Remember, the much-heralded “bubble” plan of Sam Schwartztein was created when the XFL cancelled the rest of the regular season in March; we know very little in the way of details about it. We don’t know if the bubble plan created so long ago would even be viable in 2021 given how much has changed since then.
The Spring League showed that a bubble is not infallible. And with no bubble, leagues are still struggling to play amid the pandemic: The NBA has postponed 23 games as of the first of this month; in college basketball, too many to count have been either rescheduled or cancelled. In its first month of regular season play, over 30 NHL games have been changed due to COVID-19.
For the major sports leagues, this is a difficult fix; difficult, but it can be done. The NFL played its entire season without missing a game. But they had to play on every day of the week to do it. Would stadiums and television networks be as accommodating for a secondary league like the XFL if changes to the schedule would need to be made?
Even if the COVID-19 pandemic had not been an issue, the league still would’ve been hustling to get things in place to run a 2021 season. It’s easy to say, “well, bring back everybody from 2020!” And yeah, that would’ve been cool to do. But the reality is it’s just not that easy.
Some players, coaches, and front office personnel have moved on. Others need to be vetted by the new ownership group, a common practice when new owners take over a company. But the turnaround on that sort of thing is not overnight. It was only recently revealed that the process to hire a Chief Football Officer (basically part of Oliver Luck’s job) has already taken about two months. While that has raised some suspicions and concerns for the length of the search, it shows how difficult and time-consuming filling this one, perhaps most important, football operations positions has been.
The behind-the-scenes negotiations like sponsorships, stadium leases, all the contracts that were either cancelled or brought over in the bankruptcy would need to be evaluated. A rush-job could’ve been done trying to cobble as many pieces from 2020 together as possible, but this league is a long-term play; rushing to get on the field in the short-term, shortcutting important tasks and dumping a bunch of money into it unnecessarily, would’ve put that long-term potential at risk.
The elephant in the room is the television contract. If one of the major networks had come to the Garcia group soon after the purchase of the league and offered $100 million to air the games beginning in 2021, the new owners would’ve had to think long and hard about jumping at it.
But there’s no evidence that happened. In fact, there’s no evidence the league was offered anything by anybody for 2021. And it’s hard to run a football league with no outlet to show the games. It’s important to get the right partner and the right dollar amount (especially with the depth and breadth of XFL programming Garica has talked about wanting), all of which takes time.
XFL 2.0 announced their television deals in May 2019. You can bet Vince McMahon had been working on that since he announced the creation of the league more than a year earlier; after all, cashing in on the escalating television rights fees for live sports is one of the main reasons he brought back the XFL.
Oliver Luck was hired in June 2018. Even if you believe Luck had more to do with the contract than McMahon, that’s still almost a year after his hiring that those deals were procured. Again, this would’ve been near the top of Luck’s list to work on, if he played a major role, since his hiring.
Look, I wish the XFL were playing today. I do. I can assure you, every XFL fan wishes we got a view of their wonky kickoff this afternoon on a major cable provider. That would be my preference. But when you take a step back and look at the situation objectively, it makes sense that the new owners wanted to wait. The risk was simply too great to play in 2021.
We’re still waiting for news. It’s February. It’s not doom-and-gloom, the sky is falling. Yet. I’ve made it clear in previous columns how difficult the task in front of Garcia, et al is. But if we’re still XFL fans after all the highs and lows we’ve experienced through the first two incarnations of the league…then we’ve still got a little bit of hope left in us.