Back in 2002, during the highest of WWE's popularity, the company shot an on-screen, scripted angle where 16-time World Champion and then-soon-t0-be Hall of Famers Ric Flair found a way to arrange for a consortium of anonymous folks to buy up WWE stock and seize control of the company from longtime WWE owner Vince McMahon. In that scripted angle, Flair and McMahon wound up as business partners.
So, it's not EXACTLY life imitating art, but it's in the same neighborhood, when news broke Monday that former WWE megastar and Hollywood sensation Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, a former McMahon employee, had purchased the assets of McMahon's football baby, XFL 2.0, out of bankruptcy, with plans for the league to make a go of it in 2021.
With my trail blazing partner @DanyGarciaCo & Red Bird Capital, we have acquired the XFL.— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) August 3, 2020
With gratitude & passion I’ve built a career with my own two hands and will apply these callouses to our @xfl2020 brand.
Excited to create something special for the fans! #XFL #fullcircle pic.twitter.com/LprJ6HjglD
As tweeted by Johnson above, he is purchasing the league, along with Redbird Capital and his ex-wife and current business partner Dany Garcia. The league's assets were set to be auctioned off later this month, but this transaction negates that from happening. According to RedBird Capital's news release, the transaction is subject to approval from a Delaware bankruptcy court later this week, and the deal is expected to be finalized on or around August 21.
With only the tweets from Johnson and a few others to qualify as "reporting," for now, on this significant transaction, there are some things to unpack and speculate upon. Let's do this! Spring football, baby! Here we go:
So, only $15 million?
When news broke of this transaction this morning, my radio cohost (former Texan Seth Payne) and I tried to guess what the total purchase price was for Johnson's group. Needless to say, our guesses were a whole lot higher than the $15 million that the league's assets went for. (Honestly, we both felt like, if we put our minds to it, WE could have found $15 million worth of investors, but I digress.) The truth is that, unlike the first iteration of the XFL back in 2001, this version was gaining traction and felt like "real football." Had there been no COVID outbreak in the United States, I feel pretty certain that we'd have seen a second season of XFL football.
However, that didn't happen, and Vince McMahon decided to fold the league and declare bankruptcy. McMahon created Alpha Entertainment, the league's parent company, by selling $100 million worth of WWE stock, and invested even more than that into the startup of the league. The brand was not being rejected by the market, it got shut down by COVID-19, so for Johnson and his group to get access to a brand with some degree of a pulse for a fraction of McMahon's startup costs feels like a coup.
Of course, here in Houston, we should be thrilled about the reprisal of the XFL, as the Houston Roughnecks were the league's only undefeated team when the 2020 season was torpedoed by the coronavirus pandemic. I am still lobbying for the league to declare the Roughnecks the 2020 league champion, and for Mayor Turner to schedule a parade on Zoom, but I doubt that will happen. If Johnson and company plan to reprise the league, I would have to imagine that Houston will be in the mix to keep its franchise. Reportedly, at the time the league folded, McMahon was pondering changing up two franchises — Tampa and New York — due to attendance issues.
Of course, the coronavirus isn't going to suddenly step aside and politely allow XFL 3.0 to launch in 2021. Not without a fight, unfortunately. However, it would appear that the new ownership of the XFL is ready to adapt to these COVID times that we live in right now....
Spoke w/ @DanyGarciaCo, one of three investors buying the XFL. Plan is to play in 2021, she said, possibly in a bubble. Garcia will hold an executive role with the league. Asked about other leadership, she noted "excellent" people who are or were in place for XFL 2.0.— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) August 3, 2020
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On my radio show, I have advocated for the last several weeks for the NFL to got to a bubble concept similar to the NBA, in which each of the 32 NFL teams creates its own bubble locally in their respective towns, and the only travel outside of that bubble is for road games. The XFL's new ownership already thinking about a bubble concept for 2021 is a clear indicator that (a) they plan on reprising the brand sooner rather than later, and (b) they are forward thinking folks. This is all very encouraging.
Spring football, collegiate alternative
In other football news this week, several football players from schools in the Pac-12 conference made a list of demands, in writing, to administrators at their schools for some concessions, some reasonable, some not so much. The reasonable ones were in the realm of player safety (specifically, COVID-19) and social justice. The unreasonable one, in particular, was a demand for 50 percent of the revenue across ALL college sports being distributed to athletes.
That's never, ever going to happen, and part of the reason is that the college football players have no leverage. There is no other place for them to go showcase their skills for the NFL, other than major college football. It will be interesting too see if XFL 3.0 positions itself as a paid alternative to signing up for college football, for kids that just want to play ball and not worry about school. Also, will the NFL view it as a reasonable platform for scouting prospects? The possible revival of the league could be good news for teenagers looking for football alternatives.