CFL, XFL announce exploratory talks, 2022 XFL season put on hold

Via Twitter on Wednesday the XFL, part-owned by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and business partner Dany Garcia, announced it has entered into exploratory talks with the Canadian Football League (CFL) about how the leagues can work together. The XFL also said that its plans to return in 2022 were on pause, pending talks with the CFL.

The CFL followed soon after with a link to statement about the potential partnership.

In their statements, neither party provided specifics about the discussions, such as whether a possible union of business operations was being contemplated or even possible. Any such speculation would be “premature,” according to a person familiar with the discussions.

Johnson, an actor and former WWE star bought the once-bankrupt league last August for $15 million, alongside Garcia and RedBird Capital Partners chief executive Gerry Cardinale, from Vince McMahon’s Alpha Entertainment. McMahon’s company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April after COVID-19 disrupted the XFL’s debut season.

Johnson, 48, spent time playing in the CFL after a college football career at the University of Miami. He was un-drafted by the NFL in 1995, and signed with the Calgary Stampeders, but released after only two months with the team.

“As an owner of the XFL, our discussions with the CFL have been very exciting. There’s a real pulse here because you can feel the unique opportunity we can potentially create together. Wherever it all leads, I can tell you this one is personal to me and is driven by all my passion – because me being cut by the CFL was the greatest thing that happened.

“It set me on a path that years later would lead me right back to the league. To help create even greater and bigger opportunities for all our players and all our fans. As an owner who’s had his hands in the dirt – my loyalty will always lie with the players and fans.”

The league’s new ownership is focused on an innovative approach to media and entertainment as they bring the XFL back to life. The delayed return gives time to regroup and explore possibilities with the 63-year-old CFL.

“It’s clear through our early conversations that we share a passion for football, an expansive sense of possibility, and a deep desire to create more opportunity for players and fans across North America and around the world,” XFL president and CEO Jeffrey Pollack said in a statement. “Blending the CFL’s rich heritage with our fresh thinking, and the unique reach and experience of our ownership, could be transformative for the game.”

As Canada’s professional football league, the CFL has a long history in its home country but only a minor presence in the US. In their statement, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie expressed an eagerness to explore growth opportunities for the league by working with the XFL as formal discussions between the two groups begin.

This is not the first partnership the CFL has made recent memory. The league’s ‘CFL 2.0’ initiative and swept far and wide across the world of international American football.

In the meantime, the nine-team CFL is forging ahead with preparations for its 2021 campaign after its 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic. The regular season is set to begin this year with its normal June kickoff and will run through the end of October.

Six of the CFL franchises are individually owned, while the league’s remaining three teams are publicly-owned by shareholders. Ambrosie said last spring that his teams collectively lose between $10 million and $20 million per season in non-pandemic times.

John McKeon is a former professional and collegiate American Football player and coach now living and working in New York. His goal is to spread news, information, and opinion on the global growth of the sport he loves.