The last time that an American professional football league successfully competed with the NFL, it forced the juggernaut to merge with them. Since then, the only real goal of any upstart league was just to survive. The Arena League had its heyday, to be sure, but it was a different beast.
The most concerted attempts to truly put up a competitive football product as an alternative or addition to the NFL have come in the past two years—and they were their own undoing. First, it was the Alliance of American Football, staffed with credible professionals, including Bill Polian, but it tanked halfway through its inaugural season when funding became an issue, and the last-minute buyer pulled the plug after taking over majority control.
More recently, we saw Vince McMahon revive the XFL in a new, less gimmicky, more credible format. It had been long-planned, announced even before the AAF. Through five games, they were having success. Then the pandemic shut everything down.
Everybody expected that the league would return in 2020. McMahon decided to have it declare for bankruptcy instead. But yesterday, a new buyer group emerged, with the most obvious name being Dwayne Johnson, or ‘The Rock’, one of the most iconic stars of McMahon’s primary enterprise, the WWE.
Along with two other partners, Johnson is now the owner of the XFL, purchasing it for roughly $15 million. While the purchase must still be approved through the bankruptcy court, there are no issues expected to arise, which means that we may well see yet another attempt at an alternative professional football league in 2021.
“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”, Johnson said, via CBS Sports, in a press release.
“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”.
It is unknown exactly what form the XFL will take in its third incarnation. How much of the 2020 edition of the league will it inherit? Certainly some team names and locations will be changed, based on the success or failure that the franchises had a year ago.
What we do know is that the talent pool won’t significantly change. We saw a number of players make the transfer from the AAF to the XFL, and surely those who continue to fail to crack NFL rosters but continue to wish the play football will once again seek the opportunity with the most viable alternative, even if it repeatedly has proven to be a fleeting wish unfulfilled, or at least unsustained.