Four possible outcomes from the CFL/XFL talks
In terms of the two sides working together, we can deduce the potential outcomes.
In the two months since the CFL and XFL jointly announced they’re in talks for some sort of working relationship, very little has leaked out of either side. The closest we’ve come to learning anything about the nature of the talks was when CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie spoke to the media about delaying the start of the 2021 CFL season. And even then, he revealed very little.
There is reporting that both sides have signed non-disclosure agreements, which would explain the lack of information being put forth. That hasn’t stopped the media, specifically the Canadian media, from speculating what a partnership between the two leagues could look like.
I’ve been resisting the urge to write anything about the talks because, frankly, there hasn’t been anything to write about, and speculation is one of the lowest forms of journalism. Yet, it feels like at this point the talks DO need to be covered on this website in some way because of the potential stakes for both sides.
It’s difficult to write about the talks without knowing what the talks are about, but it’s even more difficult when we don’t know the motivation either side has for joining up with the other. What’s in it for the CFL? Or the XFL? When we ask ourselves those questions, we go further down the path of rumor and conjecture.
Reports were that, at least at one point, everything was on the table in terms of the two sides working together. Even without knowing any of the above information, we can deduce the potential outcomes. So, here they are:
1. Full XFL/CFL merger
The longer the talks go on, the more this idea gains steam. A full merger would necessitate many details being worked out, which could explain the significant amount of time being spent on conversation between the two groups. This merger would include a give-and-take on the rules, melding, ideally, the best of both leagues. A full merger wouldn’t necessarily mean all teams from both leagues remain active; the XFL could pick and choose which of its franchises would survive. It would be more difficult for the CFL to pick and choose, since the teams are not league-owned; for that reason, one would assume all of its teams would be in.
A full partnership would allow for shared expenses, perhaps the most attractive reason for a merger to occur. Depending on who you read, the CFL owners are flush with cash or the league is in dire straits financially. Despite being bankrolled by RedBird Capital, it’s unlikely they would spend the hundreds of millions of dollars Vince McMahon had earmarked for the upstart league. There are some that speculate that adding the CFL to its portfolio would also make the XFL more attractive to American broadcast partners, and the CFL’s desire to make inroads in the United States would be sated as well. The XFL putting the planning for its 2022 season on hold while the talks are ongoing gives credence to the idea that a full merger is in play, or at least that everything truly is on the table.
2. An XFL vs. CFL championship/all-star game
One of the few members of the mainstream American sports media to use sourcing in reporting on the talks, Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports, noted the potential for a CFL/XFL on-field working agreement that would lead to both leagues competing separately, then coming together for an ultimate championship and/or all-star game.
Whatever issues each league has, this agreement wouldn’t solve. It might create a minor stir among the hardcore football fans and attract a one-time audience for the network on which the game(s) airs. But it’s unlikely to help aid the XFL in getting a financially strong TV deal in the states, something without which they aren’t going to move forward.
For CFL fans concerned their unique rules would be eliminated in a full merger, this would ease those worries. You would still have to come up with a plan for what rules to use for whatever crossover game would take place, however.
In the same vain, there has been talk of keeping the leagues separate but having teams from each league play each other during their seasons. It’s unclear whether or not they would count in that league’s standings or if they’d be for exhibition purposes. Consider it like the American and National Leagues of Major League Baseball, leagues that are able to coexist with different rules like the Designated Hitter. This would be dependent upon the seasons occurring at or near the same time, something that has not historically been done.
3. A shared infrastructure
In this scenario, the leagues share infrastructure and financial burdens but little else. If the main concern driving the leagues into each other’s arms is money, then this would help alleviate those issues. The leagues would remain separate entities.
The current XFL ownership lacks experience in the world of pro football. Rather than hire out and spend top dollar on a front office staff, they could share management with the CFL. That may include anything from ticketing agencies to sponsors to pro scouting staffs.
An agreement of this level may end up being disappointing to fans who have spent months reading about the potential of some CFL/XFL super league. Yet a smaller level working agreement can’t be discounted, especially if the groups do want to work together but can’t come to terms on some of the bigger issues listed in the first two outcomes above.
It’s difficult to imagine the leagues going public with talks (which likely began well before the announcement was made) if there was a chance nothing would come of them. Yet it must be considered. When discussing a working agreement of this magnitude, there’s always a chance of any number of roadblocks halting a deal.
The desperation level of either group to get something done could eliminate those obstacles; we don’t quite know what that level is, or which group has the leverage. It appears even without the XFL, the CFL can still operate. For how long and to what level remains to be seen. Without the CFL, we’re unsure how or if the XFL can function.
All XFL fans are waiting, some more patiently than others, for a resolution to these talks. Until then, apparently, the league can’t or is unwilling to move forward. The talks are producing no news to whet the appetites of those fans. XFL fans have been asked to be patient for too long; eventually, that patience is going to run out. The hope is, before that point, their patience will be rewarded.