Seven takeaways from the XFL’s announced partnership with the NFL
What does this deal tell us? Here are the key takeaways from the XFL/NFL deal.
The XFL announced via press release last Monday a working agreement with the NFL in the area of “select innovation programs” including the health and wellness of players both on and off the field. Something of this nature has been expected since November when Mike Mitchell wrote about a potential NFL-XFL working relationship. That story came on the heels of Dany Garcia’s Instagram post in early October about a meeting in New York City that showed a piece of the NFL logo hidden behind a notebook.
In addition to the XFL’s press release, ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert published a story on the same day with quotes from Garcia, XFL President Russ Brandon, and NFL Executive Vice President Troy Vincent that shed further light on the agreement between the two leagues.
From those two pieces, here are some of my key takeaways from this deal:
The XFL and NFL’s partnership will not include a player sharing agreement
In media interviews since she became XFL owner, Dany Garcia has been hesitant to completely shut the door on, well, anything. Yet in the ESPN.com piece, she explicitly shot down the idea that the NFL-XFL partnership could eventually lead to the NFL allocating players to the XFL.
This likely assuaged fears held by some fans that the XFL could devolve into little brother to big brother NFL, rather than acting as its own distinct league. Garcia’s comments make it seem like the XFL wasn’t interested in this idea, but it likely wouldn’t be something the NFL would be on board with, either.
After NFL Europe closed down in 2007, the NFL has not been in a hurry to start a new developmental league, nor work in concert with another league to act as one. The NFL is likely happy to pluck players from alternative leagues like the XFL and USFL without having to share in the financial burden these leagues endure.
Does ESPN’s access for its story hint at the potential of it being an XFL broadcast partner?
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Tweeted about the NFL partnership deal at 10:37 am on Monday February 21. Dany Garcia’s first Tweet about the deal came two minutes later. The XFL’s Twitter account linked to the press release at 10:50 am. Yet five minutes before The Rock’s Tweet, Seifert broke the news on his Twitter account. At the same time Garcia sent her Tweet, Seifert Tweeted a link to his ESPN.com story on the subject, complete with quotes from both parties.
This makes it clear that the story had already been leaked to ESPN prior to the official announcement, far enough in advance for Seifert to gather quotes from Garcia, Vincent, and Brandon for his story. Because he had quotes from the prominent folks involved, the leak was obviously intentional from the highest level of management. Does the XFL granting this sort of access and scoop to ESPN signal a TV deal with them in the future?
It could simply be that ESPN is as they say they are: The Worldwide Leader in Sports, and therefore the XFL wanted its news to be covered in-depth by the biggest sports property in the country. But with NBC and Fox likely out of the picture due to their deal to air USFL games, ESPN/ABC would be one of the last major networks standing as an outlet for XFL games. Putting two and two together, it’s a reasonable conclusion to reach that ESPN could be on board with the XFL in some capacity. Seen through that lens, it makes all the sense in the world that ESPN would have the scoop.
Dwayne Johnson’s social media presence will be a major asset for the XFL
As of this writing, Johnson has 15.8 million followers on Twitter, 58 million on Facebook, and 300 million on Instagram. Not only are his numbers astronomical, but he’s been lauded for his use of social media to advance his brand.
We got a glimpse of how powerful that brand can be last week. On Monday, Johnson Tweeted or re-Tweeted about the XFL deal with the NFL six times. Those Tweets were seen by and reached an audience of prospective XFL fans numbering into the millions. As the league ramps up its news cycle over the next few months, and even when it begins play next year, Johnson’s social media will be crucial to giving the league the visibility it needs to survive and thrive.
Innovation will continue to be a calling card for the XFL
One common thread that has been woven throughout the three iterations of the XFL is the desire to be on the cutting edge of technology and football innovation. That has stretched from the product on the field, with rules differentiating it from the NFL and college, to television production that has given fans an inside look at the game.
When XFL 3.0 announced its management team, missing were some of the key players that pushed for innovation and use of technology in XFL 2.0. Sam Schwartzstein, Oliver Luck, Eric Galko, and others had either moved on or were not invited back. In their place are NFL front office veterans like Russ Brandon, Marc Ross, and Jim Monos. Would they be as forward-thinking as their predecessors, or would they rely on a more no-frills formula learned in the trenches of the NFL?
It appears at least lip service will be given to the XFL continuing to push forward the game of football. The word “innovation” was used to describe the league by all three persons quoted in the XFL press release: Garcia, Brandon, and Vincent. In interviews at the time of purchase, Garcia lauded how the XFL attempted to differentiate itself from other leagues with its on-and-off-field alterations. With competition from the USFL, which will endeavor to craft its rulebook similar to the NFL and college football, standing out from the crowd will continue to be a necessary focus for the XFL.
A partnership with the NFL should boost the confidence of XFL fans awaiting league news.
The NFL has become a billion-dollar industry; Commissioner Roger Goodell is very protective of The Shield. Therefore, one can assume the NFL would not get into bed with another company, let alone another football league, without doing due diligence.
Thus far, little has been made public about the 2023 version of the XFL. There is a belief that the league is working behind the scenes, preparing to unveil its grand plans over the next few months. It’s also fair to assume that the XFL shared those plans with the NFL. The NFL must’ve liked what they heard enough to sign off on this deal.
One of the first conversations I would’ve had with XFL brass if I was on the NFL side of things would’ve been something like, “show me what you’ve got ready for 2023 and we’ll talk.” Perhaps the XFL shared plans for cities, head coaches, broadcast partners, the amount of money they’re willing to put into the product…something to make the NFL take notice and want to move forward with a deal.
It would make the NFL look silly to join forces with a clown show operation, and Goodell and company wouldn’t want to damage their brand in that way. While the deal with the NFL is good news for the XFL in a vacuum, it should also give confidence to fans frustrated by the slow nature of the process that good things are coming down the pike.
A missed opportunity for the CFL?
XFL fans have already taken to Twitter to dunk on the Canadian Football League. The XFL was in talks last spring to work with the CFL before those discussion broke down and ended without a deal. It was later in 2021 when XFL leadership met with NFL management, and an opportunity was born.
It’s not quite fair to place the two sets of talks on equal footing; we still don’t know a ton about the tenor of the CFL/XFL talks. It seems reasonable to assume they could’ve been discussing bigger issues and a more in-depth deal than what was crafted between the XFL and NFL.
Partnering with the NFL certainly grants the XFL more credibility stateside than would’ve been gained by doing so with the CFL, so from an XFL perspective, they seemed for now to come out ahead. One important note: The ESPN story mentions that the XFL-NFL deal is not exclusive, meaning both groups can work with other football leagues as well. For those who believe the CFL and XFL talks could be revisited in the future, there’s your lifeline.
XFL combines in the fall rather than the summer?
In another line from the ESPN story largely ignored in the conversation about this deal, Brandon gave word XFL combines will take place in the fall. That’s a far cry from the timeline posted on Garcia’s Instagram in December, from a league meeting in October. The original dating would’ve put the combine on or around June 2022.
Is there a logical explanation for this significant difference? Could the XFL be planning two sets of combines, one for the summer and one for the fall, just prior to their draft? It’s conceivable. If they did indeed decide to push the combines back, what might be the reason?
In June, like with the XFL Summer Showcases of 2019, you’d get players that would pad the bottom of XFL team rosters. If the XFL wanted to hold workouts for more top-tier players, they’d wait until the fall. NFL training camps would be just getting underway in June, when rosters would be at full capacity. By fall, NFL teams would’ve made roster cuts, leaving many more prospective players on the street. If the intention of the combine is to work out any and all available players, instead of those without recent game tape or from smaller leagues and colleges, then the fall makes more sense.
“The fall” is generally vague, and could reference any time from late August to November. It’s unlikely to be later than that given the need to hold the XFL draft around that time. Ideally, the XFL would begin the scouting and workout process earlier to leave no stone unturned in the search for quality talent. It’s too early to draw any sweeping conclusions from Brandon’s comment, but it is worth monitoring just when the XFL will kick the player acquisition process into full gear.