2021 was supposed to be the year that the XFL returned for its second season. Instead COVID came at the worst possible time for the returning league, ultimately shutting it down just five games into their 2020 season. For all intents and purposes, the XFL was a success in 2020 and exceeded expectations from fans all across the board.
Starting out the year, the XFL had a new set of owners after it was purchased by Dany Garcia, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and RedBird Capital for roughly $5M. Going into this year, it was expected that the XFL would be working towards a 2022 return.
That was until March, when it was revealed that the CFL and XFL officially announced that they were talking about forming a possible business partnership. Naturally, this led the online football world to speculate on what this could mean for the two leagues. Would the CFL switch to four downs, would the XFL champs play the Grey Cup champions, etc. Some even went so far to believe we would see a full blown merger.
This was all happening as the CFL was working towards a return of their own. The same COVID pandemic that shuttered the XFL, put the CFL on the sidelines for all of 2020. Shortly before the delayed CFL season was set to kickoff, we finally got word on what was going to happen.
The CFL put out an official statement essentially stating that they were going to go their own ways for the time being.
Our talks with the XFL, exploring the potential for collaboration and innovation, have been positive and constructive.
While we remain open to finding new ways to work together in the future, we and our XFL counterparts have jointly decided to not pursue any formal arrangements at this time.
We at the CFL are now squarely focused on preparing for August 5th and the start of our 2021 regular season, which will culminate December 12 with the playing of the 108th Grey Cup in Hamilton, Ontario.
We are looking forward to this year and a bright future for our league.”
The XFL broke their silence and put out a video package which officially postponed the return until 2023.
It would be many more months until we’d hear from the XFL again in official capacity.
Throughout the year fans were able to catch on to the fact that co-owner Dany Garcia seemed to like the idea of teasing news on Instagram. She’s been known to hint towards upcoming news and even dropping full-blown bombshells.
One of those hints came in early October where she shared an image of an XFL ownership update deck, stating there was a big meeting set in NYC. This latest tease brought a lot of attention online, as many keen fans noticed that the presentation also showed the NFL logo. Some speculated that the XFL was trying to work for the league, as others think it may be geared towards trying to model themselves more like the NFL.
We also saw Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson post a picture of himself on a private jet on his way to join the meeting. Although we didn’t know the details (yet), clearly something big was happening behind the scenes.
It wasn’t much longer after this meeting that the news made the rounds that XFL President Jeffrey Pollack would be stepping down from his position. This was a surprise to many as he was one of the few employees to stay with the league during and after its bankruptcy.
Pollack joined the XFL in its leadup to its 2020 season and helped guide the ship during their best and worst times. But, it seemed that the XFL was going in a different direction and he left on his own accord.
News: XFL President Jeffrey Pollack has left the league as its owners continue to chart a new path toward a relaunch. Developing. https://t.co/uUsDlbFn3C
— Ben Fischer (@BenFischerSBJ) October 14, 2021
Near the end of October, Sportico held an online event around Investing in sports which featured XFL co-owners Dany Garcia and Gerry Cardinale (RedBird).
Although there wasn’t anything notable in regards to the return of the league, we did get a hint that news is coming in the next few months. In response to a question on this very subject Cardinale said:
You’ll be hearing from us with an increasing crescendo in the next many months because we’re getting ready to start debuting some of the things that we’ve been working on”
November was really when things started ramping up for the XFL.
Kicking off the month the league announced their first round of hires under the new ownership group. The hiring’s were headlined by the new that former Bills exec Russ Brandon would be coming into to fill the roll of league president. Among the group we same some new names and returning figures coming back to the XFL.
- Russ Brandon – President, League and Football Operations
- Rob Gerbe – Chief Financial Officer
- Jordan Schlachter – Chief Business Officer
- Janet Duch – Chief Marketing and Content Officer
- Marc Ross – Executive Vice President, Football Operations
- Doug Whaley – Senior Vice President, Player Personnel
- Scott Harniman – Senior Vice President, Enterprise Technology
- Jay Rothman – Senior Vice President, Broadcast Operations
- Cindy Wagner – Senior Vice President, People Operations
Coincidentally, this was also the same day that the XFL shuttered its online shop. It had become an ongoing joke online that the XFL was always running sales, but they finally closed it down; promising to return in 2022. We don’t know when exactly in 2022, but we’re hoping sooner rather than later.
December came, and along with it came huge news. XFL co-owner Dany Garcia got back to her ways on Instagram and instead of dropping a tease, she gifted us a bombshell.
In a post referencing the October XFL meeting in New York, she snuck in an image that revealed the XFL 2023 return timeline. The first image shows the XFL ownership group with a statue of the Hulk, but if you flip through you find the real meat and potatoes.
The timeline shows that the league is planning player combines for June 2022, training camp in January 2023 and the league kicking off February 18th 2023. This follows the same format the league took in 2020, beginning the season a week after the NFL’s Super Bowl concludes.
The third image of the bunch shows Dwayne Johnson in front of mannequin’s bearing the XFL jerseys. Fans online noticed that there seemed to be one missing, that being the Houston Roughnecks. Looking at the image, it seems it’s very possible that the jersey is just out of frame. That being said, the Roughnecks logo was abandoned by the league after it was challenged by the Tennessee Titans who used to be the Houston Oilers.
That wasn’t it for December though, not by a long shot. Shortly before Christmas, the league announced another round of hires, which also included a few returning faces.
- Russ Giglio – Senior Director, Player Administration and Officiating Operations
- Jim Monos – Senior Director, Football Operations
- Brad Campbell – Senior Director, Football Technology
- Bobby Monica – Senior Director, Equipment Operations
- CJ Cavazos – Director, College and Professional Relations
- David Dykeman – Director, Football Special Projects
The spring football landscape is a lot different that when the XFL first hit the field. In 2020 they were un-opposed. Looking to the future, we now have the USFL and FCF coming in to compete for the playing pool. Beyond players, broadcast partners are now in need. In 2020 the XFL had FOX and ABC as broadcasters, but now FOX has gone into business of their own by bringing back the USFL. The new USFL has also signed a multi-year deal that will see the league receive rights fees from NBC.
This has led a lot of fans to assume that the XFL will work with ABC/ESPN at minimum when they return. This assumption has some basis, as one of the new XFL hires Jay Rothman comes from ESPN with many years of experience. Although we don’t know the details yet, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson says we should know more details on the league in the first couple months of 2022.
A few days before Christmas, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson joined CNBC, where he spoke about the upcoming return of the XFL. In which he stated that we’ll learn the leagues broadcast partners, and new teams/cities in the next month or two months.
We should maybe within the next month, or maybe two months, announce our broadcast partners, which we’re very excited about and new teams, new cities and very excited about that”
This left a lot of fans worrying that their favorite teams from 2020 may be gone. From what we know, it’s not expected that all teams will change. If we look at how the teams performed in the shortened first season, clearly there’s a couple that we think could use a relocation. But, it may not come down to that. With the USFL now in the game, some of the cities the XFL used now have been taken by their new competitor.
Although the leagues won’t be playing at the same time, the league may take that in consideration as to not create fan fatigue.
Clearly, there’s still a lot to learn about the return of the XFL, and we expect to hear a lot of that over the next year. When we look at the leadup to the 2020 season, it was early the year prior that the real fun news started dropping.
For those worried that the XFL won’t see the light of day again, you shouldn’t be. It seems that the league is just now starting to ramp up their efforts towards 2023… and hopefully beyond.
What are you most excited for in an XFL return? Let us know down in the comments below or join the conversation on Discord.