The leadership behind the XFL has seen bold innovations in football take hold, including overhead cameras, referees in microphones, and revised kickoff rules. But they weren’t enough, as every pro upstart to take on the NFL has gone under. No longer content to be an in-your-face upstart, the XFL’s third iteration, due to begin in February of 2023, has shifted towards collaboration with the commercial juggernaut.
The Monday announcement confirms rumors that the restart would include working in some capacity alongside the NFL, which has vanquished all previous competitors, including the first two versions of the XFL and the United States Football League (USFL). XFL co-owner Dany Garcia believes the alliance was an easy fit as the relaunched pro league has numerous long-standing relationships and ties to the NFL.
“There wasn’t a [XFL] version in our minds, at an ownership level, where we wouldn’t be dialoguing and collaborating with the league,” Garcia said in an interview. “It was a very natural step for us.”
The XFL 3.0 will work with the NFL on programs centered around health, safety and player development. These select initiatives will range from mental fitness and officiating to playing surfaces and equipment. The XFL, which aims to start play in February 2023, has been in regular talks with NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent and his staff.
The RedBird Capital-owned XFL, which plans to embrace sports gambling like other major sports leagues, will also collaborate with the NFL on sharing game trends and data technology, a space the leadership of the reboot has been active in over the last year.
“There will be collaboration in every workstream, and that is certainly one of them,” XFL president and former Buffalo Bills CEO Russ Brandon said. “Enhancing the game on the field from that perspective but also bringing that type of content to the consumer as well is very important to all of us.”
Additionally, the collaboration between leagues includes scouting and developing international players.
The NFL continues to expand its global marketing initiatives, with Germany set to host one regular season game per year over the next four seasons. Procuring foreign talent and finding growth opportunities in other countries is a strong focus for the XFL, which was once in talks with the Canadian Football League and continues to explore international markets.
“Approaching it first as a developmental opportunity to bring in more athletes is very important, and then just following that natural progression,” Garcia added.
Actor and former WWE star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his business partner and ex-wife, Garcia, teamed up with RedBird’s chief executive Gerry Cardinale to purchase the XFL from Vince McMahon’s Alpha Entertainment LLC in a $15 million deal in 2020 after COVID-19 disrupted XFL 2.0’s inaugural season.
McMahon’s business vision for the upstart league viewed the NFL as a competitor and direct threat, but new ownership is taking a different approach—positioning itself to execute independently yet collaboratively with the football giant. For the NFL, the collaboration could be beneficial, as the XFL can potentially accelerate innovation and become another vehicle to broaden the sport’s footprint overseas.
“We are hopeful that this relationship will support further development and improvements in the game of football at all levels,” Vincent said in a statement.