Written by Chris Kubala
There have been two incarnations of the XFL and both have suffered spectacular failures, imploding before making a major impact on the sports landscape. The original version of the league was amped up on trash talk, players with odd names on their jersey (remember He Hate Me?) and the bombastic commentary from wrestling commentators Jim Ross, Jerry “The King Lawler” and Johnathan Coachman, all of whom were members of the then-WWF commentary crews. An even split between WWE and NBC saw each lose $35 million on their $100 million investment and the league folded up after one year, leaving the Los Angeles Xtreme as the lone title winner in league history.
That was all we heard about football and Vince McMahon for more than 15 years as he went back to focusing on pro wrestling. It wasn’t until late 2017 when McMahon founded Alpha Entertainment, basically a shell company to prevent WWE investors from taking a hit should the XFL failed. In January 2018, Alpha Entertainment announced a new XFL to start in 2020 and the league hired Oliver Luck as the commissioner. The league started off with success before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and paused sports in North America on March 12. In early April, the XFL announced that they were canceling the rest of the 2020 season with plans to play in 2021. That changed later in April, when the league announced that they were closing up shop and folding as Alpha Entertainment filed for bankruptcy.
When it folded, the XFL owed more than $14 million to 25 different creditors who helped get the league off the ground in 2020. At this stage of the game, it’s unclear if McMahon has made any sort of dent in what he owes or not. However, in the interesting twist of the day, the individual that is contemplating to buy the league out of bankruptcy is none other than…Vince McMahon.
How is that possible, you ask? Well, in some ways it’s simple and in other ways it’s a bit more complex when you get right down to it. According to Daniel Kaplan at The Athletic, creditors of the league believe that McMahon is willing to buy the league out of bankruptcy. The thought process is that McMahon went this route in order to avoid paying the operating costs for the league during the pandemic. Kaplan elaborates:
“That’s what was asked by one former team official, who passed on the tips about Seattle and St. Louis. A representative for Visit St. Louis, which oversees the Dome at America’s Center where the BattleHawks played, confirmed Pollack had reached out about the lease. When asked about the possibility McMahon may have filed for Chapter 11 protection to restart the league, a spokesman hired by the XFL wrote in an email, ‘The response to this filing will speak for itself.’”
According to sources, there is the potential of paying $3.5 million in refunds to season ticket holders in order to build some good will and help take care of some of the potential issues. Should McMahon end up buying his own league back, there are quite a few land mines that he has to work through in order to potentially come up with a third potential incarnation of the XFL.
For starters, McMahon would be starting from scratch. He’d have to start over with coming up with new players, new coaches and new staff. Seeing that Luck sued after he was fired last month, it’s clear that the league would need a new commissioner. There’s the problem of finding new cities and venues for teams, not to mention the potential of mending fences in places like Seattle or St. Louis. McMahon could look to move teams to places like Oakland or San Diego, both of whom lost NFL franchises in the last couple of years. Putting together a solid foundation is going to be what will try to draw interest back to the sport.
Can McMahon find a way to blow the dust off and get the XFL off the ground for a third time? It’s going to be an uphill battle as the sports world has seen him go down in flames twice. However, McMahon’s biggest successes have come from being someone who could reinvent himself and his product. He’s done it for nearly four decades with the WWE and he could do it again here. It’s merely a matter of whether he’ll be given the opportunity to do so.