National Post

CFL, XFL join forces to grow sport

Neither league sure where this will go, exactly

- Dan Barnes

It’s neither bailout nor financial partnershi­p; rather a commitment to collaborat­e on growing their brands and the game of football.

But Wednesday’s announceme­nt that the Canadian Football League and the third coming of the XFL — whose moneyed ownership group stars one-time Calgary Stampeder and current Hollywood icon Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson — have entered into formal talks between them at the highest levels will surely start many other tongues wagging. And it’s certainly not hard to imagine that public conversati­on will centre on the financial possibilit­ies for the cashpoor CFL.

“That’s the farthest thing from the truth, the money concept,” XFL chair and owner Dany Garcia said Wednesday. “But you make a great point; everyone is going to have a lot of fun with speculatio­n.

“The truth is that like the CFL, we are deeply invested in adding innovation, adding opportunit­y and expanding on the football experience in a major way. So during this time since we acquired the XFL, that has been our daily activity, looking for incredible partners to collaborat­e with, to align with, to see what the future of this incredible property could be. And the CFL, quite simply, was doing the same thing.”

She was referring to the CFL’S working partnershi­ps with football entities in Mexico, Europe and Asia, an outreach championed by commission­er Randy Ambrosie, who hopes to turn the initial steps into broadcast revenue streams.

“Randy, working with the board of governors, has been on a path of growth, which I’m sure you know as they have their global conversati­ons and expansion initiative­s,” Garcia said. “And all of a sudden there were like-minded similariti­es in what the football experience could be and can be for athletes and for fans in the community. That’s really where the alignment is, on the vision, the future and the possibilit­y.”

There is further alignment through Johnson’s roots — his father Rocky was born in Nova Scotia — as well as the Rock’s brief history with the Stamps, who relegated the defensive lineman to their practice roster in 1995, then sent him home, as legend has it, with seven dollars in his pocket. Johnson famously celebrates that turning point in his life — as it led to incredible riches and happiness — and he remains a committed fan of the CFL.

“So much of this was part of the initiative that we wanted to focus on and then finding the CFL deeply rooted in that space, the ties that DJ has with the CFL just helped to colour that,” Garcia said. “They’re actually symptomati­c of all the reasons why we love sitting across the table from the CFL.”

Together with Redbird

Capital’s principal Gerry Cardinale, Garcia and Johnson spent US$15 million last August to purchase the assets of the XFL’S previous ownership group, which was backed by Vince Mcmahon. That company, Alpha Entertainm­ent, filed for bankruptcy April 13, after first suspending the XFL’S 2020 season on March 12. The league’s eight teams each had played five of their 10 scheduled regular-season games before the COVID-19 pandemic descended.

In October, the new XFL ownership group announced its commitment to an inaugural season in 2022. Few details have emerged since.

The CFL, meanwhile, cancelled plans for a last-ditch, six-game 2020 season in a Winnipeg bubble last August but is committed to a full 2021 campaign, beginning June 10 with a Grey Cup rematch between Winnipeg and Hamilton.

Ambrosie and XFL president and CEO Jeffrey Pollack had already been engaged in regular conversati­on before the two sides decided to formalize the process. However, there is no stated end point. On Wednesday, none of the principals were suggesting there will be player movement between the leagues or interleagu­e exhibition games.

“We have, I think, a shared sense of possibilit­y and potential, and there is a common desire to grow the game, and that’s a nice place to start the conversati­ons ahead,” Pollack said. “We’re honoured to be talking to the CFL. We have tremendous respect for what the CFL has

WE’RE GOING TO MAKE SOME GREAT FRIENDS AND LEARN A LOT.

accomplish­ed over the years. It has a rich history, and legacy and tradition that we respect and we love. And there is a lot to still discuss and explore.

“Where this goes, we don’t know. It’s a conversati­on, it’s an exploratio­n. As I said it’s about possibilit­y and potential and together we’re going to walk down this road and explore together, keep learning about each other and learn about what is possible. It’s too early to address any of that.”

Ambrosie said the CFL sees this as an opportunit­y to grow the fan base, to learn from leaders in the entertainm­ent business, and he isn’t sure what will come of it.

“Where it takes us we don’t know, but we’re going to make some great friends and learn a lot and we’re going to energize each other,” said Ambrosie. “Those are the short-term priorities.”

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Dany Garcia

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