The Canadian Football League and the XFL announced they were in talks over a partnership on Wednesday morning. Questions have been left in the minds of many CFL and XFL fans about this potential partnership. I have a few questions myself, but first, let’s take a look at statements made by CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie and XFL chairwoman/owner Dany Garcia.
“Canada has an exciting game and devoted fans, and our discussion with the XFL provides a tremendous opportunity to build on that strong foundation. We look forward to exploring how we might work with one of the most innovative sports brands in the world to grow the game, engage fans in new ways, and reach new audiences. We look forward to seeing what possibilities our discussions might uncover, and to sharing those with our fans as the process unfolds.”CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie
“Since we first acquired the XFL, we have focused on identifying partners who share our vision and values on and off the field. A vision filled with opportunity, innovation, and the highest level of entertainment value for the benefit of our athletes, fans, and communities. The CFL has expressed that similar sentiment and jointly we recognize a great opportunity to build exciting innovative football experiences that make the most of each league’s unique strengths. I look forward to our continued discussions and we will update the sports community as we have more to share.”XFL Chairwoman/Owner Dany Garcia
(And now to my questions – my responses are just thinking out loud, so take it for what you will.)
Is This a Merger?
I’ll respond with a question: is this a pseudo-merger? Thanks to 2020, the XFL halted mid-season and then, Vince McMahon’s Alpha Entertainment declared bankruptcy in April. The CFL never got their 2020 season off the ground as the league thanks to #CoronaSZN. This is a fascinating partnership. The CFL is in dire need of a cash influx of cash to even consider a 2021 season. Meanwhile, the XFL needs a partner with a recognizable name and the ability to develop talent. So… maybe.
What Does This Partnership Mean?
There’s a lot of speculation as to what this partnership means. Personally, I think this is a trade-off between talent and marketing. The CFL is not known for its marketing prowess because it doesn’t market its star players (or if it does, just not very well). That’s where the XFL comes in. During the 2020 iteration of the league, the league had its share of breakout stars. Some of its notable stars were Houston quarterback PJ Walker and St. Louis quarterback Jordan Ta’amu. Their star power helped propel the league’s popularity. The CFL could use that kind of marketing to promote interest in the league. The XFL, meanwhile, can help the CFL by acting as a talent pipeline. I imagine that the XFL will still play in the Spring when it reboots in 2023 (see the tweet below).
An update on the 2022 Season: pic.twitter.com/AnTvrKZd24— XFL (@XFL2022) March 10, 2021
Will the CFL Change Its Rules?
One of the biggest concerns many CFL fans is whether the league will convert to American-style rules. The CFL’s unique rules (ex. three downs, the single (aka the “Rouge”), unlimited backfield motion) are what makes the league fun to watch. Now there is worry among CFL fans that the league will go to a smaller field and adopt XFL rules. When you think about it, there may be some rules that the CFL could adopt from the XFL. For example, the XFL kickoff rule would be a safer alternative to the kickoff rules the CFL has now. The XFL’s conversion scoring methods would also be fun. If there are any changes, I believe they would be extremely minimal.
How Does the Partnership Affect Television?
As far as I know, the XFL still has preexisting television deals with ESPN/ABC and Fox Sports/FS1. Since 2008, the CFL has had an exclusive contract with TSN, which is the property of Bell Media. ESPN, however, does have a small share in TSN and broadcasts CFL games throughout the season (regular season on ESPN+, Grey Cup playoffs on ESPN2). Does this mean that the CFL will get more television exposure in the United States? With ESPN+ also moving to Hulu and the XFL’s broadcast deal with ESPN, it very well could. In addition, if the XFL develops talent that goes to the CFL, more American viewers could watch the CFL.
There are a lot of hypotheses and speculation about the birth of this partnership. One thing is for sure: this partnership could be perfect for the American football fan looking for their fix in the Spring and Summer.