Its kind of amazing that a league that hasn’t played in 16 months and one that folded for the second time a year ago are the talk of the sporting landscape. But such is life after the bomb dropped that the CFL and XFL were engaging in talks.
I’ll admit that I was initially among the most dismissive of folks regarding the news. I saw it as somewhere between a publicity stunt or an agreement on how to cohabitate at worst. I didn’t think the term “merger” would play out. But I may have changed my tune…
Look there is a lot of hysteria out there on the matter and in this internet age this leads to a whole bunch of misinformation. Hell last week when I jokingly tweeted out that the CFL measures stats in meters not yards, I had someone dead serious correct me and tell me that no, the CFL does in fact measure in yards. This is the hysteria I’m talking about. People take a joke tweet from a dude who dresses in a beard and robe seriously.
But even if you drown out the hysterical noise, enough reputable reporters are talking… and the message is pretty consistent. A merger is definitely what the leagues are discussing. Will it come to that? Remains to be seen. But there is a lot more going on here than just casual chats on coordinating schedules and player movement.
If that scares you as a Canadian fan, it should. There’s no way any kind of merger doesn’t result in some kind of changes to our beloved game. And before you downplay the odds of this, just take a second to think of the financial state of the league. Outside of the 4 prairie teams, 3 of the remaining 5 teams are doing quite poorly financially (before the pandemic) and sadly those 3 represent the 3 biggest markets in Canada. I mean you would be better to invest your money in scratch and win tickets rather than a CFL franchise in terms of rate of return. So add a pandemic on a league that is already not making big coin and survival becomes a very serious question.
Now the XFL itself is not going to save the CFL (their rate of folding makes Ottawa look like a historically stable football town by comparison) but they have 2 things that might. #1) $$$$$ The Rock is not exactly poor (mostly because I don’t think he has ever turned down a script in his life and just spends him time going from movie to movie collecting big cheques) but more importantly RedBird Capital (the equity firm that was part of the XFL purchase) has massive money. They were just part of deal involving LeBron buying part of the Red Sox. #2) Is the Rock’s star power. I guarantee that any clip on social media of the Rock even uttering the term CFL has more view that any CFL game. You want to grow the league then a glorified hype man like the Rock brings instant attention. So its pretty clear that the CFL sees this partnership as a path to (finally) financial stability and growing the game exponentially more than a Humpty’s commercial featuring Weston Dressler ever could.
What remains to be seen is exactly what the CFL would have to give up to get it. Despite its wealthy and famous owners the XFL is lacking a few things that the CFL has… mainly teams, coaches, staff, refs and general existence. My guess is that they see the CFL’s existing football operations infrastructure as a quicker path to being a thing again than starting from scratch for a 3rd time.
So what we know is that the regular old CFL is targeting to play some kind of season in 2021. 2022 is a bit of a question mark but possibly another CFL season. But come 2023 I do now think there is a very real possibility of some kind of combined XCFL league happening. But who knows what that would look like.
I’m not saying I like this. The thought on my beloved Canadian game changing in any significant way is about as appealing as the Bombers winning on Labour Day. But here’s the question that I hear lots of reputable people asking: If the choice is a merger or no CFL, would you still be opposed to any kind of change? It’s a scary question but it’s the one that is driving the CFL to talk to the XFL.