A group led by actor and former WWE star Dwayne Johnson has agreed to purchase the XFL for approximately $15 million. The XFL, which declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 13, has been seeking a buyer for the past three months, marketing itself as a made-for-TV product that could transition to a bubble concept during the coronavirus pandemic as early as 2021. Johnson and his investors, including his business partner Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital Partners, are making plans to play next season.
The sale must be approved by a bankruptcy judge at a hearing on Friday. The bankruptcy court’s committee of unsecured creditors filed an objection on Monday afternoon based on certain assets included in the sale. If approved, Garcia will have an executive position with the XFL and said that both she and Johnson will have a hands-on approach to running the league. She also said that they are in close discussion with the current XFL management team.
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XFL’s troubled history and Dwayne Johnson’s passion for football
The XFL has twice shuttered after one season, first in 2001 and again as a result of the pandemic, and there hasn’t been a successful alternative professional football league since the AFL forced a merger with the NFL in 1970. But XFL owner Vince McMahon had been a determined aspirant, investing $200 million in the league’s second incarnation, one that promised to “reimagine” the game. However, the eight teams suspended play after five weeks.
Organizational plans for the newest version of the XFL are not clear. McMahon fired XFL commissioner Oliver Luck on April 9, and Luck responded by suing McMahon for wrongful termination and is seeking $23.8 million. The lawsuit was on hold awaiting the results of the bankruptcy.
In a statement, Johnson provided a glimpse of the McMahon-like flair he could bring to the league. “The acquisition of the XFL with my talented partners, Dany Garcia, and Gerry Cardinale, is an investment for me that’s rooted deeply in two things — my passion for the game and my desire to always take care of the fans,” said Johnson, who played football at the University of Miami from 1990 to 1994.
“With pride and gratitude for all that I’ve built with my own two hands, I plan to apply these callouses to the XFL and look forward to creating something special for the players, fans and everyone involved for the love of football.”
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Garcia said that they are being mindful of what has actually been successful during the pandemic. “When you create a bubble, your players are safe. When you don’t, it’s chaos,” she said. “We are a league, because of the number of teams we have, that actually can create a bubble environment. Those discussions are active.”
XFL’s viewership and revenue and Dream team ownership group
The XFL averaged 1.9 million television viewers per game and generated nearly $20 million in gross revenues in 2020, according to court filings. It had projected $46 million in gross revenues for the 10-game season, each data point exceeding internal expectations, according to sources.
XFL president and chief operating officer, Jeffrey Pollack is among the league’s few active employees. Most were laid off on April 10. In a statement, Pollack called the pending sale “a Hollywood ending” and said Johnson‘s investors are “a dream team ownership group, and the XFL is in the best possible hands going forward.” Gerry Cardinale is the managing partner and CEO of RedBird, which manages more than $4 billion in assets.
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League Infrastructure and Staffing
The XFL is expected to require significant investment to revitalize the league, including infrastructure and staffing. The league’s former staff of approximately 400 employees was laid off in April as part of the bankruptcy filing, and it is unclear how many of those employees will be rehired by the new ownership group. However, Garcia indicated that the XFL’s current management team has been in discussions with the new ownership group, and she praised their work during the 2020 season.
Additionally, Garcia and Johnson are expected to take a hands-on approach to run the league. Garcia will hold an executive position with the XFL, while Johnson is likely to bring his business savvy and passion for football to the table. With Johnson’s entertainment industry experience and RedBird’s financial expertise, the XFL’s new ownership group could bring a fresh perspective and a new level of professionalism to the league.
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