Reflection: What could the CFL/XFL partnership mean?

There’s very little we know and a lot we don’t concerning the new partnership between the CFL and XFL, and it has some spelling doomsday for the Canadian game.

Very ominous, yes. But that’s what fear of the unknown is doing to CFL fans across the country since the league announced a partnership with Dwayne Johnson’s XFL on March 10.

This sent supporters and players of the league into a frenzy of speculation on what this could mean for the CFL as we know it.

“The Canadian Football League (CFL) and XFL owners Dany Garcia, Dwayne Johnson, and RedBird Capital have agreed to work together to identify opportunities for the leagues to collaborate, innovate, and grow the game of football,” said a press release from the XFL on the day.

The news felt like a hit from the blind side, yet there is nothing threatening about the above statement, or any subsequent comments from CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie and the owners of the XFL, but instead a lot of optimism and praise for the Canadian game and its longstanding tradition.

So what are fans so up in arms about? Well, people are a little bit on edge right now, understandably so. More than a year now into this pandemic, and our beloved league is hanging by a financial thread, having lost between $60-80 million as a result of the cancelled 2020 season and poised to lose even more if there actually is a season in 2021, as they would most likely be operating without fans, their main source of revenue.

In a classic putting the cart before the horse situation, assumptions abound on social media, and among some experts, that a merger is on the horizon. While many spread the negatives this could bring the league, and in today’s age of misinformation and conspiracy, what about looking at it with a positive approach?

It’s tough to speculate on what exactly could be good or bad about this new friendship, but one big benefit are the deep pockets of the owners of the XFL. Johnson’s net worth is north of $300 million and RedBird Capital Partners manages around $4 billion in assets, including recently partnering with LeBron James to buy stakes in the Boston Red Sox, of which RedBird owns 11 per cent.

Yes, the CFL has team owners with deep pockets as well, but there hasn’t seemed to be a collective interest for owners to cover the cost of playing a season as they try to keep their own franchises afloat and considering the federal government chose not to help the CFL last season, it’s unlikely the league goes that route either.

With the XFL ownership coming in, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to have them at least partially fund our season as part of this brand new partnership.

That might be why Ambrosie is so confident that there will be a full 18-game season this year, even though a comprehensive return-to-play plan has not yet been finalized.

If a merger of any kind takes place, it won’t happen until next year at the earliest, as the XFL also announced that plans for their 2022 season are on hold depending on the end result of their discussions with the CFL.

But a merger where either league is amalgamated into the other does not seem likely, as you have to imagine Johnson has more respect for a league with as rich a history as ours and that he was once a part of, but it could still be possible to see XFL and CFL teams playing each other in some capacity in the near future.

For now, just figure out a way to get back to football. We all miss it. We all need it.

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