Four possible outcomes from the CFL/XFL talks

CFL XFL Collaboration

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.

4. Nothing

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.

8 thoughts on “Four possible outcomes from the CFL/XFL talks”

  1. As a former CFL, NFL, USFL player I think this plan wll fail because of the different rules, scoring and field size. Fans in Canada will bail; out if the CFL goes into American rules. The XFL has a pro wrestling mentality. I went to a game down here in Tampa and found the game boring and lacking talent and not entertaining.

  2. As a Canadian who grew up watching both the CFL and NFL since the late 60’s, I would love to see a full merger. There are aspects of the American game that I prefer over the Canadian game, and vice-versa.

    The CFL has been around for a while but has suffered through several ‘convulsions’ that resulted in threats to its continued existence. This can mainly be attributed to the fact that its 3 largest cities (Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver) see themselves as top-level North American franchises (i.e. NFL-worthy), and through various periods have had a fan base that hasn’t been all-in when it comes to supporting what they consider a minor league to the NFL. On the other hand, 4 of the 5 teams out west (Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Calgary, Edmonton) have a much more rabid fanbase and would be more likely to continue on in a scaled-down CFL if a merger did not work out.

    That’s why Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment (MLSE), who owns almost all of Toronto’s pro sports franchises – save for the Blue Jays – are most likely playing a large role in these negotiations. (they also were behind the effort to get new management in Montreal) For that reason I see management in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver being the drivers in creating a merged league; one that will see teams from the US and possibly Mexico & Europe get more fans in the stands when their teams come to town. Coupled with 21st Century marketing and TV deals, I see this as a very entertaining, off-season alternative to the NFL.

  3. Only a full merger will generate the kind of excitement and attention needed to keep the XFL afloat. They’ll need to play CFL rules to make it happen.

  4. Fans in the united states will not buy the cfl rules at least half the cfl stadiums can’t work a 150 yard field in them.just for that reason the field will be 120 yards.

  5. For five weeks during the 2020 season I watched and really enjoyed the XFL. I felt if not for the pandemic the league was well on it’s way. When the new owners purchased the league I assumed the plan was to bring it back with many if not all of the teams, rules, coaches along with as many players who wanted to return. What I’m not understanding is why is it now being said that the XFL can’t make it on it’s own without the CFL? In my opinion, I felt during those five weeks of play the TV ratings showed without question fans were watching and the league could make it!

  6. I don’t how they can merge without rule changes and I’d rather not see the CFL change, I really like it the way it is (even if it does need more teams).

  7. There will be two Leagues with American rules football; the NFL and the USFL. The XFL should adopt CFL rules and go for a full merger; that is the only way it will likely survive another round of bankruptcy proceedings, considering it cant compete with both the NFL and USFL on the American rules football front.

  8. Big fan of the CFL since the late ‘80’s watching on ESPN. I also enjoyed the 5 weeks of the XFL 2020 season. I believe the rules change in the XFL were great. In America we can deal with rule change because we enjoy the game of football so much. Keep the CFL rules but play on a 120 field & 11 players. We in America need the season to start in April and championship game mid July. The CFL will miss out on the field size and time of season. The trophy will still be called the Grey Cup. You will have a 16 team league ,with 4 divisions . 8 teams in both countries. Teams in the CFL West conference : Edmonton Elks ,Calgary stampede BC loins and Saskatchewan Roughriders. CFL East : Hamilton Tiger cats, Montreal Alouettes , Ottawa Red Blacks and Winnipeg Blue Bombers . AFL West : Dallas , Houston , Seattle and San Diego AFL East : New York , St.Louis , DC and Chicago . 14 game schedule. Best record in the 4 divisions in playoffs. Why I didn’t use Toronto as a league team is because the NFL will be knocking on their door soon .

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