“It’s an uphill battle,” Johnson wrote in a tweet, “but we’re hungry, humble and no one will outwork us.”
The upstart off-season rival to the NFL, a reanimated version of the one operated by the same name by NBC and wrestling magnate Vince McMahon in 2001, got a few weeks into its season before COVID-19 struck. McMahon funneled some $200 million into the effort to revive the league but it declared bankruptcy in the spring. The new owners picked it up for just $15 million.
A promotional video included in Johnson’s tweet readily acknowledges that the new owners “have our work cut out” in terms of providing a viable alternative to the NFL. A number of would-be challengers have flamed out over recent decades, most recently the Alliance of American Football, which folded after part of a season in 2019. The 2001 version of the XFL, its only season, posted initially strong ratings on NBC as curious viewers tuned in, but it quickly cratered.
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ESPN had made a deal to televise the XFL’s 10-game season, starting the week after the Super Bowl last February, but only half of the games were played.
In addition to the pandemic, which has limited fan attendance at football games and created logistical complications for teams and leagues, emerging from bankruptcy is a tall task for the new owners. Many former coaches and league employees are listed as creditors in the bankruptcy proceedings, presenting challenges in terms of ramping back up quickly. Former commissioner Oliver Luck has filed a $23.8 million wrongful termination lawsuit against McMahon.
In an official announcement that followed Johnson’s tweet, XFL president Jeffrey Pollack said the league wants to take the time it needs to get all of the elements in place. February 2021 will also likely still be a transitional time for the U.S. in terms of COVID-19. Already speculation is growing that the start of the NBA and NHL seasons could be pushed until well into the year, with a return to “bubble” setups a possibility. By waiting until 2022, the XFL could benefit from an expected coronavirus vaccine.
“For the love of football and for the safety of our players and fans, we’ll be back on the field in 2022,” Pollack said. “The opportunity in front of us, with our new ownership, is simply too big to rush back. We want to do this properly with care and thought for everyone who loves football, especially our players, coaches, partners and fans.”
Unlike the 2001 incarnation, which emphasized on-field violence, scantily clad cheerleaders and other elements consistent with McMahon’s wrestling success, the reboot in 2020 was focused on a safer style of play. Kickoffs, which often generate high-speed collisions and cause concussions, were adjusted by the XFL with different rules.
Here is Johnson’s tweet:
XFL returns SPRING 2022 🏈
As owners, we’re proud to champion our XFL players, coaches, cities and fans into an electrifying 2022 season!
It’s an uphill battle – but we’re hungry, humble and no one will outwork us.
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) October 1, 2020