Can you smell what The Rock is cookin’?
It appears as though CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie has certainly taken at least a small whiff.
On Wednesday morning, the Canadian Football League and the XFL announced that the two entities have begun formal conversation into a potential alignment for the return of football post-pandemic.
Yes, you read that right. The three-down, 62-year-old CFL has entered talks with the one-year-old XFL on a deal that would see the two leagues come together as a way to “explore potential for collaboration and innovation while growing the game of football”.
“Canada has an exciting game and devoted fans, and our discussion with the XFL provides a tremendous opportunity to build on that strong foundation,” Ambrosie said in a joint statement on Wednesday. “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.”
After an uber-successful 2019 campaign that saw the Winnipeg Blue Bombers host the Grey Cup for the first time in 29 years, the CFL was forced to shut its doors for the entirety of the 2020 season. Unable to receive funding from the federal government, Canada’s lone professional football league did announce it would return for a full 2021 campaign. The schedule has since been release, with competition beginning in May. Fan attendance – or lack there of – still poses a major issue for a league that relies heavily on gate revenue.
Meanwhile, after five weeks of competition, the XFL cancelled its 10-week 2020 season and later saw former CFL player-turned-wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson take over from Vince McMahon as a co-owner alongside Dany Garcia.
“Since we first acquired the XFL, we have focused on identifying partners who share our vision and values on and off the field,” Garcia said in the statement. “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.”
What exactly this means for the three-down CFL and the resurrected high-flying XFL remains quite unclear. Although not directly mentioning an impending merger between the two leagues, the word ‘partnership’ was used rather heavily. Despite Johnson and the XFL previously announcing that the league would return for the 2022 season, that plan is now officially on pause until a decision can be made following the formal talks with the CFL. Anything announced in terms of a collaboration would begin following the 2021 CFL season.
“We are honoured and excited to be in discussions with the CFL,” XFL President and CEO Jeffrey Pollack said. “It’s clear through our early conversations that we share a passion for football, an expansive sense of possibility, and a deep desire to create more opportunity for players and fans across North America and around the world. Blending the CFL’s rich heritage with our fresh thinking, and the unique reach and experience of our ownership, could be transformative for the game. We look forward to learning more about what’s possible together with the CFL and where our shared passion takes us.”