The XFL, part-owned by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and business partner Dany Garcia, 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.
In their statements, neither party provided specifics about the discussions with the CFL, 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.
The league’s new ownership trio 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 the only Canadian professional football league, the CFL has a deep history in its home country but a minimal presence in the U.S. In a 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.
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.
Johnson, 48, enjoyed a brief stint in the CFL after a college football career at the University of Miami. After going undrafted by the NFL in 1995, Johnson signed with the Calgary Stampeders, but he was cut after two months with the team.
The Stampeders are one of six individually owned CFL franchises. Its ownership group, Calgary Sports and Entertainment, has assets that include the NHL’s Calgary Flames and National Lacrosse League’s Calgary Roughnecks. 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.