After months of rampant speculation about The XFL and CFL potentially forming a hybrid on the field or even potentially merging their business strategies off the field, both leagues officially and amicably announced this week that their lengthy collaboration talks are over for now and maybe forever.
Supporters and followers of the XFL and CFL finally got an answer to all the pressing questions they’ve asked in the last several months. The CFL decided to punt on third down and is moving on with their upcoming 2021 season. The XFL is also moving on, and by the sound of it, based on the league’s statement Wednesday, they intend to move forward with their global plans without the CFL.
The XFL quietly and unceremoniously released a brief statement about the end of their CFL talks to XFL News Hub and other media outlets. But buried in the lead of the alignment talks ending and the XFL officially announcing their return to the field in 2023 was the wording used in the statement.
“While our discussions with the CFL did not ultimately lead to a collaboration, the effort reinforced our belief and commitment to developing the XFL for international spring football. We look forward to seeing everyone for kickoff in spring of 2023.”* Statement from the league office of The XFL.
“The effort (CFL discussions) reinforced our belief and commitment to developing the XFL for international spring football.” In other words, the XFL’s belief in what they had planned internationally in their alignment discussions is stronger now than it was before the talks began.
The international aspect of the XFL statement has opened the door for speculation on what it could entail for the league’s proposed plans in 2023.
Let’s look at the possibilities and questions about what the XFL’s international spring football could mean as the league heads towards 2023.
Will XFL 2023 Include A Team In Mexico?
The XFL undoubtedly wants a team in Mexico in 2023. The question is can they make it happen? It’s easier said than done, but it’s not difficult to see why pro sports leagues have a strong interest in the Mexican market. Of all the international locations out there, many can argue that Mexico is the most enticing.
Futbol will always be king in Mexico, but the popularity of American football has soared there over the years, and the country has a growing number of fans for the sport, as evidenced by the success that the NFL has had staging games in Mexico. According to an article done by the LA Times in 2017, the NFL has a sizable market share of over 20 million people in Mexico. In 2019, The Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers drew over 76,000 fans in Mexico City at Azteca Stadium. Many fans in attendance showed up wearing Chargers, Chiefs jerseys, and gear from other NFL teams they support.
Mexico is a large country, and there are several different locations for any league to set up shop in, but Mexico City is certainly an option. It is one of the largest cities in the world (with a population of over 21 million), and the city itself is a great travel destination with accessible transportation. It already has a pro stadium in Estadio Azteca.
Mexico City has the infrastructure to support a pro sports franchise. In the end, The XFL may choose to go with a more modest stadium size or a different location but it’s easy to see the value in M.C.
What also makes having a team in Mexico so viable is its ideal time zone. Mexico shares the same time zone as many American cities. With a Mexico-based team, you won’t have to worry about scheduling games at odd hours, like you would other international locations. The lack of time difference makes it much easier to schedule games with teams from the U.S. and helps aid networks for television purposes.
So, where and how does the XFL come into this equation?
From day one, Chairwoman and Co-Owner Dany Garcia has talked about the XFL being a league of culture and has stressed a desire for the XFL brand to be globalized. There’s no better market than Mexico to fulfill both of those desires. RedBird Capital already has ownership of sports teams abroad internationally like Toulouse FC and Liverpool. So they know firsthand the value and passion of fans in countries like Mexico. And ultimately, they realize the value of what a TV deal in Mexico could mean for the XFL’s finances. And the selling point it can be for partners in the United States and internationally.
There would be logistics to work out and many hurdles to overcome, but a homegrown pro football team in Mexico can be a centerpiece franchise for the XFL. Much the same way, the St. Louis BattleHawks were in 2020.
2023 Makes The Most Sense For Mexico
A question to ponder with the XFL’s decision to play in 2023 is this, Is the timeline specifically because of their desire to field a franchise in Mexico?
After all, one of the countries that have had the most significant issues during the pandemic has been Mexico. Back in April of this year, the League of American Football, the LFA – Liga de Futbol Americano Profesional, an eight-team league started in 2016, which normally runs from February to April – was forced to cancel their 2021 season due to the pandemic, a year after suffering the same fate that the XFL did in 2020 when their season was suspended in mid-play. Government restrictions have been so strict in Mexico that authorities have forbidden teams from even training or practicing together. Things are starting to turn around now but like most areas of the world, Mexico is still trying to get back gradually back to life the way it was pre-pandemic.
Oscar Perez, president of the LFA:
“The Mexican government has not allowed American football teams to train, the risks are still many for the health of players, coaches and their families. We were officially asked to postpone the season and that puts us very close to the start of the next one in 2022. For many reasons, this decision was forced on us.”
The 2023 timeline for the XFL makes it possible, provided that things improve with COVID, that they can field a team in Mexico with fans in attendance. The key ingredient to what would be one of the boldest moves that an American-based pro sports league can make.
Will XFL 2023 Include A Canadian Based Team?
The truth is that the XFL’s interest in talks with the CFL was primarily because of the value of the Canadian market and its big cities. The NFL also sees value in the Canadian market and, in recent months, has entertained the possibility of returning to the country again in the future but this time staging yearly regular-season games.
Rather than having periodic games like the NFL, The XFL could decide to take up permanent residence in Canada.
With the CFL and XFL going their separate ways. Some would surmise that perhaps the XFL’s interest in that market could dissipate. On the contrary, based on my conversations with sources close to the situation in recent days and the league’s official statement, early indications suggest otherwise. And with the possibility already out there in the ether, one of the first questions becomes, How would the CFL feel about the XFL setting up shop in Canada?
A real possibility exists that the XFL could start their 2023 spring season in April or even May. The new timeline would accomplish several things.
Firstly, it would further distance the XFL from the NFL season, which now ends in mid to late February; secondly, it would keep the league away from March Madness. Furthermore, a Canadian expansion team joining the XFL ranks would benefit from the later spring start (April/May) in terms of weather considerations up north during that time of the year.
Lastly, an XFL season ending in June or July would only go head to head against the early portion of the CFL season. Since, regularly, Canadian Football League seasons start in the middle of June. For reference, The 2019 CFL season commenced on June 13th. So even with the XFL in Canada, it wouldn’t necessarily be a full-blown competition with the CFL.
Could CFL Teams Jump Ship And Join The XFL?
The second major question about the XFL’s international plans in Canada is, what if a team or multiple teams in the CFL that have been bleeding money profusely the last few years decides to defect to the XFL and join their league?
It’s no secret that certain ownership groups within the CFL were catalysts for the XFL discussions and foresaw a potential partnership as a way to establish a healthier business model.
The idea of longtime CFL franchises leaving for another league seems ridiculous or unimaginable for some to ponder, but the financial realities make it a plausible outcome. Lending credence to this theory is Pro Football Weekly covering a recent article by Canadian Press writer Dan Ralph. He shines a light on the lingering questions surrounding the Toronto Argonauts and their future in the CFL. The report raises the possibility that the Argonauts could join the XFL in 2023—citing the historic franchise’s financial issues in recent times and MLSE’s willingness to do business with RedBird Capital and the XFL’s ownership group.
The article also details the acrimony and difficulties in the CFL’s diverse ownership structure.
The CFL has three community-owned teams (Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Edmonton), three privately owned (Hamilton, B.C., and Montreal), and three owned by conglomerates (Toronto, Calgary, and Ottawa). A large part of why the CFL couldn’t come together on a formal arrangement with the XFL was the difficulty in getting everyone on the Canadian side to share the same vision and strategy.
MLSE partnering with RedBird Capital
It’s entirely within the realm of possibility that MLSE could enter into a new business agreement with RedBird Capital and the XFL that is more financially beneficial than the current ownership structure for the CFL and its nine teams. The XFL’s ownership group could provide a revenue-sharing system that is too enticing for the Argonauts or potentially other CFL teams to ignore. Struggling big market cities in the CFL like Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal could see the XFL as a way of saving their franchises in the long run. The alternative would be staying the course but eventually closing up shop.
Losing any franchises to the XFL would be a crushing blow for the CFL, especially if any of the franchises in their big TV markets abandon ship.
And what a turn of events it would be, for the CFL and XFL, to go from potential allies to mortal enemies. It’s difficult to fathom, and any move towards this scenario would create an absolute uproar of epic proportions. But as crazy as it seems, the possibility can not be dismissed. The smoke is real, and the fire exists.
No matter what scenario plays out for the XFL north of the border. There’s no denying that they want to have a Canadian element in their league for 2023. Much like the NBA and NHL, the XFL would love to capitalize on the Canadian market for their pro league.
From an international, business, and tv rights aspect. The XFL’s interest in Canada makes sense; how they arrive at that destination or who joins them will be fascinating to track in the coming months.
Will The XFL Shift Away From Their 2020 Markets Or Expand?
The hope for most fans is the possibility of the XFL expanding from its original eight teams in 2020 to potentially ten or even 12 teams by the time 2023 rolls around.
One way to soften the blow of not having a 2022 season would be to announce that the league is expanding to new markets, notwithstanding all the resources needed to fund a larger league. There are benefits to expanding to more teams in terms of a larger share of the tv ratings with more markets watching, more games for weekly gambling options and expanding the player pool for fantasy leagues.
Humor me for a moment, but could you imagine an XFL 2023 that looks like this;
- New York
- Miami or Orlando (Formerly Tampa)
- Columbus (Ohio was the XFL’s #1 Ratings market in 2020 outside of St. Louis)
- Mexico City
- San Antonio
- San Diego/Oakland (Formerly LA)
As fun as it is to think of all the possible expansion locations, the reality is that if the XFL does indeed incorporate teams in Mexico and Canada for their 2023 season, that it may very well come at the expense of their 2020 markets.
Sources have already indicated to me in the past that there could be some changes around the margins for the league’s initial eight franchises. (venues, locations, etc)
It makes sense for a variety of reasons for the XFL to shift gears from the team locations they had in 2020. After all, a lot has changed since 2020, and the locations and venues that they chose back in 2018, were in part, dictated by the markets that the AAF secured ahead of them.
In 2023, It will be three years since XFL last took the field, and the downtime in between has given the league’s ownership group plenty of time to reset and reassess. And if the shift is now internationally, it’s fair to assume that a couple of the XFL’s teams could end up relocating or not being in existence anymore. After all, you’d want to start teams in Mexico City and Canada with their own identities.
Two teams in the XFL that underperformed at the gate in 2020 were Los Angeles and Tampa. Both franchises had good fan bases, but you could certainly argue that they weren’t ideal markets for a spring pro football league, notwithstanding the weather benefits and their considerable TV market size. In theory, In 2023, if the XFL stays with eight teams, Tampa could be replaced in the East by a new team in Canada, and a team in Mexico City could replace LA in the Western Division.
The XFL in 2023 is going to be different than it was in 2020. There’s no getting around it. It’s a new ownership group with a different vision. It may attempt to carry out the spirit and innovative nature of its 2020 predecessor, but the change is inevitable. And by the sound of it, it’s coming. At least, that’s the intention.
As great as an international spring pro football league sounds on paper. The XFL’s spectacular vision seems almost too bold to succeed. The go big or go home right out the gate plan seems like a precarious strategy.
Leagues like the XFL have come along in the past and have all made grand promises that they failed to deliver upon.
The USFL was going to take down the NFL, went all in, and died with a dollar. The NFL launched the World League of American Football, an entity that would merge Europe, the United States, and even Canada into one spring league. (Remember the Montreal Machine) The idea was almost immediately scrapped and remodeled into NFL Europe before eventually fading away over time.
The United Football League borrowed Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio’s “play in the fall” in non-NFL markets, on weekdays idea, went largely unnoticed, and flopped miserably.
The XFL in 2001, for all of it’s innovations, that still exist today, insulted and mocked the NFL and ended up being a joke.
The AAF was going to be the NFL’s new developmental league, fully funded by them. The Alliance promised to revolutionize the sporting world with the most up to date technology, but within a week of play, couldn’t figure out how to configure their payroll system. Two separate owners in almost a season of play, and the league couldn’t even get to the finish line of year one.
So many other countless alternate pro football leagues have failed to launch or have failed spectacularly. As such, it’s fair game for followers and supporters of these types of leagues to expect the same results.
And the fact is that skepticism about the XFL’s future is growing. Despite the heavy hitters that the league has in its favor and all the great potential that exists for a property like this to succeed based on the small sample size of what XFL 2020 proved. . The doubt will remain.
At this point, even the XFL’s most loyal and ardent supporters are skeptical that the league will ever take the field. The running joke is that the XFL will become XFL2024 in a year.
Presuming that the XFL does get onto the field by 2023. Before that time arrives, RedBird Capital, Dany Garcia, and Dwayne Johnson need to present what they have planned and finally get in the batter’s box. They might still strikeout, swinging for the fences, trying to hit a grand slam but a more significant disappointment and failure will be if they never get up to the plate.
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