Spring football had a different feel to it this season. In the past, whether it’s XFL 1.0, the USFL, or the recently defunct AAF (Alliance of American Football), it just doesn’t seem to work out in the end. The XFL experienced a strong push in popularity, viewership, and profit to begin the 2020 season before it all came crashing down at the hands of COVID-19. Things have seemed bleak since the season was canceled but, like a thief in the night, The Rock and his investment group, Red Bird Capital, purchased the defunct league for $15 million right before it was due to be auctioned off.
On the surface level, anyone who has seen the HBO Series “Ballers” would say that this is an expected move from Spencer Strasmore, who is the Rock’s character in the series and an NFL agent turned NFL owner by series end.
The Rock just took method acting to the next level; your move DiCaprio. From a football and business standpoint, the league could not have gotten a better fit to help take their league to the top. Vince McMahon laid out a successful blueprint that would have succeeded for years to come had there not been a global pandemic.
This is an important move in the landscape of professional football as the arena leagues either didn’t start this season or only made it through week zero, with two games being played in the IFL (Indoor Football League). The CFL has not committed to whether or not they will have a season in 2020, and the preseason has been eliminated at the NFL level for this season.
This will go down as the worst year in NFL history for undrafted free agents and roster bubble players, as they will have to prove their worth in shorts and a t-shirt for the next few weeks. The NFL benefits heavily from a league like the XFL simply because they’ve never had their own minor league system. The XFL allows players to build their film reel, expand their skillset, and prove that they are the same player, if not better than they were in college. The NFL has always had this issue on the player development front, and it could benefit from a league for the practice squad and roster bubble guys to flourish in a professional, competitive environment. From players that I know who played in the league this past season, the XFL conducted themselves lightyears ahead of the AAF. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the league’s business plan guaranteed three seasons.
Over the past two seasons, close to 100 players have gotten that call from an NFL franchise after competing in the AAF or XFL. As someone who works with athletes in hopes of getting to a league like this and ultimately the NFL, this is the biggest of all blessings. I know a lot of talented football players, some of whom are part of the 2020 draft class that are currently at home, unsigned, and would be willing to put it all on the line for this opportunity.
Guys like PJ Walker of the Houston Roughnecks and Jordan Ta’amu of the St. Louis Battlehawks parlayed their XFL success into NFL contracts, as Walker is now a Panther and Ta’amu a Chief.
The bubble guys on an NFL roster should be able to benefit in the same way that players in any of the other three major American sports do by having a minor league team to fall back on to help grow the sport, make some money, and ultimately get back to the NFL. For some reason, football — the highest-grossing, most-watched, and most popular sport — just can’t seem to get a minor league system to stick. With The Rock leading the charge for XFL 3.0, I would expect another big TV deal with a major network as the Nielsen Ratings for last season were exceptional, averaging 1.9 million viewers per week over five weeks.
There has been no word regarding any of the details of the new league, but I will say that the cities used for the 2020 season, for the most part, showed up to the games. St. Louis averaged around 30K at each home game and even had to open the upper bowl for a few games. Another thing I wouldn’t put past The Rock is for him to take an opportunity to get the XFL affiliated with the NFL as an official minor league. This was something that Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian of the AAF attempted to do before their league shut its doors. The teams were all owned by the league, so one would assume that the team names and cities would remain the same.
For football players and agents worldwide, this is a breath of fresh air. With one of the best American “rags to riches” celebrities and a former University of Miami football standout leading the charge, the XFL is now in its third resurgence.