The XFL’s curious PR strategy (or lack thereof) as they lurch toward 2023
The CFL walked away from talks toward their 2021 season, and the XFL went back to silent mode.
XFL fans were treated to a double-whammy of bad news from the league last week. First, it was announced that the CFL and XFL had broken off talks without a working agreement in place. In its own statement on the matter, the XFL slipped in that the league wouldn’t be kicking off until 2023.
While the latter did not come as a surprise, to many, the former did. The CFL and XFL had been officially collaborating for about four months. Talks were made public in March, though the extent of those discussions had been kept under wraps via strict non-disclosure agreements. Rumors of a full merger had died down of late, but the assumption was the two leagues would work together in some capacity (though I left open the possibility in a May column that the sides could leave the negotiating table without a deal). The CFL gets to walk away from the talks and into training camps in preparation for a partial 2021 season. The XFL slinks back into silent mode.
The remaining XFL fans are wondering when it is they’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel. XFL management provided not even a morsel of good news to offset the bad, which is basic public relations strategy: Soften the blow of bad news with some good. It’s even stranger when you consider the ownership group consists of one of the most popular actors in America in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, one of the most powerful women in entertainment in Dany Garcia, and in RedBird Capital one of the largest sports investment firms. In other words, competent PR should not be an issue.
The irony isn’t lost on some that while Garcia has preached a desire for the XFL to be a 24/7/365 league upon launch, they’ve been radio silent for months. It’s now been almost a year since she and her partners purchased the league, and we don’t know much more about their process or their plans than we did upon completion of the sale. Details haven’t been scarce; they’ve been non-existent. Go to the XFL.com website right now, and you won’t even see the statement ending talks with the CFL, only a note that kickoff is now planned for 2023.
For just a second, let’s give the new owners the benefit of the doubt. It’s not that we don’t believe they’ve been working behind the scenes; Garcia has dropped enough hints on Twitter and Instagram to know they have a plan, or have been working on a plan. Maybe keeping things under wraps has been purposeful; maybe there are currently cameras following them around in every meeting, and when the league is ready to launch, we’ll be able to see all the behind-the-scenes machinations in the form of a documentary chronicling the league’s resurgence.
While it would’ve been nice to get some good news with the bad, perhaps it’s simply that there is no good news yet. It’s difficult to believe the league hasn’t accomplished one thing worth touting in the last 11 months. However, maybe ownership doesn’t want to force anything and instead are being incredibly judicious with how they handle making important matters public. Though it seems like a long wait, XFL 2.0 fans will recall some long dead periods between news as well. And by the time of of that first kickoff on February 8th, who remembered any of the frustration over those slow periods? If XFL 3.0 makes it to kickoff, perhaps all of this consternation will be forgotten too.
The unfortunate reality is that it could be months yet before we hear anything more. Kickoff is more than a year-and-a-half away (for now), and while it seems like a long time, it’s not long at all when you consider the grand plans the new ownership group has for the league. There’s no guarantee this even gets off the ground, but if the ideas Garcia has talked about publicly come to fruition, and the XFL turns out to be everything she and her partners hope, then it’ll be worth the wait. Right now, that’s the only solace XFL fans can take.