The recently bankrupt XFL has been given new life by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who has agreed to buy the league along with his business partner and ex-wife Dany Garcia, Gerry Cardinale, and RedBird Capital Partners. The group announced the purchase of the league (reportedly for about $15 million) from WWE owner Vince McMahon's entity, Alpha Entertainment LLC, on Aug. 3, and it was approved on Friday morning.
In addition to having a notable WWE and acting career, Johnson also has a background in football, which makes him a good fit to be the face of the league. He played defensive tackle at Miami in the 1990s and was part of the team that won a national championship in 1991.
Given the fact that the XFL has folded twice, one is right to be skeptical about it going forward a third time. However, a star with Johnson's caliber coming on board is a game-changer. Here are five reasons why this time could be different.
1. The XFL was not in a terrible place before the pandemic
This first reason requires defining "terrible place." The XFL launched in 2001 with a television deal with NBC, WWE tie-ins, and a promise of more violent football. The opening night drew a 9.5 Nielsen rating, but then viewership plummeted. By the end of the season, the WWE and NBC had each lost $35 million, and the XFL folded. The new league relaunched in 2020 with less ballyhoo than in 2001, a safer, more up-tempo game, and a pledge from McMahon to see this league through multiple seasons. The XFL played five games, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, severely hindering both of McMahon's businesses whose income comes from live events. That's what caused the league to declare bankruptcy, not lack of popularity. Yes, ratings had dropped from 3.1 to 1.5 right before the pandemic, but that was also in the midst of upcoming college basketball tournaments and a league still finding its way. New ownership could build upon the work of the league in 2021 or 2022 and offer spring or summer football.
2. Dwayne Johnson could promote it like gangbusters
Johnson went from being a mid-level wrestler named Rocky Maivia to "The Rock" to the biggest movie star in the world. He is a master of promotion and could give the XFL a major boost if his name becomes synonymous with the league. It could be like what Ice Cube has done with his Big3 three-on-three basketball league. Only bigger.
3. There could be movie tie-ins
The NFL goes to great lengths to protect its brand. That's why movies about pro football often have to create faux leagues. For example, 1991's "The Last Boy Scout" did not feature a player (Billy Blanks) from the Los Angeles Rams or Raiders shooting his way to the end zone. Instead, a new league with the team, the L.A. Stallions, was formed. While the XFL may not sign off on a scene like that either now, it has less to lose than the NFL with doing movie tie-ins, which could further promote the league. Additionally, Johnson has enough pull in Hollywood at this point to get a project greenlit where the XFL is the centerpiece.
4. Johnson transcends the WWE
Both iterations of the XFL were seen as a product of the WWE and that always turned off the group of football fans who view pro wrestling as trashy entertainment. That changes with Johnson, who is now a movie star who happens to wrestle from time to time. His ownership can give the league a feel of legitimacy with a segment of fans that may not have felt that way before.
5. Low costs can bring more families
Let’s face it. Going to an NFL game is expensive for one person, much less an entire family. The XFL relaunched with lower costs on tickets, merchandise, and food. If it keeps those prices low, it has the potential to bring more families to its games, creating an incoming generation of fans. Especially once fans are allowed to return safely to live sporting events.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.