Five things we learned from the XFL’s executive hires
What did we learn from the nine hires the XFL announced for XFL 3.0?
On Monday, the XFL announced nine members of its management team, the first concrete sign the league is planning in earnest for a 2023 season. Here are five things we learned based on the nine hires:
1. There will be no “Commissioner” position
The XFL has structured its leadership more like a business rather than a sports league; no surprise given the world in which owners Dany Garcia, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and RedBird Capital inhabit. The traditional role of commissioner will be shared by Russ Brandon, the league’s President, who will oversee day-to-day operations; and Marc Ross, the Executive Vice President of Football Operations, who will be in charge of the on-field product, from gameplay to rules to league planning. For what it’s worth, Ross will report to Brandon.
In January, Sports Business Journal reported the XFL was seeking a Chief Football Officer position that would “oversee all football operations.” Sources told SBJ the position would feature “less autonomy” and a “narrower portfolio” than a normal commissioner. Brandon was a part of the group advising ownership on the hire, which while bestowed with a different title, appeared to end up going to Brandon himself.
2. The league’s top hire comes with baggage
Based solely on his resume in the sports world, Russ Brandon checks many of the boxes you’d like for the position of league president. However, according to a report in the Buffalo News at the time of his departure from Pegula Sports & Entertainment (owners of the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres) in 2018, an internal investigation was being conducted into Brandon’s workplace behavior amid allegations of personal misconduct. Hopefully, XFL ownership did its due diligence on Brandon’s background and were satisfied with the results.
3. XFL 3.0 brought back several XFL 2.0 staffers
As time passed, it seemed less and less likely the new ownership team would bring back a sizable number of those who worked in the 2020 version of the league. It’s a lot to ask of people to hang on for more than a year while the owners gets their ducks in a row. Yet, of the nine executives officially hired on Monday, five worked previously for the league. Many have been reassigned or are handling different jobs, but it’s a sign that while the new XFL may look drastically different in many ways than the old XFL, having the experience of being part of that league does matter.
4. Diversity is emphasized
It should be no surprise that a league led by Garcia and Johnson would want a diverse cast of executives. Garcia has championed women in executive roles, herself the first female owner of a sports league. Garcia is Hispanic, Johnson is African-American and Samoan. Two of the nine hires in key leadership positions are women. Two are African-American. Under Vince McMahon and Oliver Luck, the XFL had garnered press for placing a female official on every officiating crew, and for hiring two female team presidents. Three head coaches and two team presidents were African-American. Early returns are that the XFL will continue its inclusive atmosphere.
5. Jay Rothman may turn out to be the most significant hire
The one curriculum vitae that stands out in the league’s press release belongs to Jay Rothman. While not a household name among sports fans, Rothman is well-known in the industry of televised sports. He will be in charge of working with the XFL’s broadcast partners, overseeing on-field production, and original programming. The league figures to live or die based on what kind of television deal(s) it can get (if it hasn’t already made those deals) and what kind of audience it can attract. Rothman will be a key player in those worlds.
Per his LinkedIn page, Rothman spent 33 years at ESPN working as Producer and Executive Producer of Monday and Sunday Night Football, College Football, and the NFL Draft. He also worked in the sports studio show setting, an aspect that was missing from both prior versions of the XFL. It’s hard to imagine a better hire for such an important part of what the XFL wants to be.
There was no “splash” hire among the nine as Oliver Luck was three years ago. Even with the name value and credentials of Garcia, Johnson, and RedBird, it must be difficult to convince high-level football people to join up and give a spring football league a third go after completing just one and-a-half seasons in its previous two lives. Given those inherent roadblocks, the XFL appears to have done well in bringing aboard a leadership team of varied backgrounds experienced in professional football.