On the eve of the XFL’s return, Brandon speaks about what he hopes it can become.
It has been over 30 months since Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Dany Garcia and Gerry Cardinale’s RedBird Capital purchased the XFL for $15 million. Since then, that trio, league president Russ Brandon, and many more have been plotting its return.
On Saturday, that day will finally be here.
Along the way, there have been ups and downs. The league had originally planned to partner with the CFL before the two sides eventually parted ways. Months later, the league joined forces with the NFL. Their partnership will focus on health and safety, officiating, new game rules, new technology, and more.
“We feel really good about how we’ve built this over time and it’s been a long time in the making, but we’re thrilled that we’re finally at the doorstep,” Brandon said in a phone interview.
The XFL has familiar faces on the sidelines as well. Rod Woodson, Hines Ward, Bob Stoops, and Wade Phillips will all serve as coaches, and all have playing or coaching experience in the NFL or college football.
The players might also be recognizable. A.J. McCarron, a former Alabama Crimson Tide national champion, will start, and so will Josh Gordon, Martavious Bryant, and Vic Beasley.
We don’t have all the details on player contracts and salaries just yet, but Boardroom provided an overview of what to expect. In addition to payment, the XFL said it will provide lodging, meals, and health and medical safety.
With the league kicking off Saturday and ending just as the NFL offseason workouts begin, there is an opportunity for players to leave the XFL and head to the NFL.
Brandon isn’t concerned.
“It’s no different than a Triple-A baseball player who wins MVP and goes on to play 15 years and you can follow that player and the fandom of that individual,” he said. “That’s what we want. We want to see our athletes’ journeys continue. The bottom line is there is room in the football ecosystem for more development in professional athletes and we are here for that for the longrun.”
Faces of the XFL
Make no mistake: Garcia, Johnson, and Cardinale are the true faces of the XFL. Brandon spoke about each in his conversation with Boardroom.
“From my perspective as the leader of the day-to-day operations, to have ownership that is so entrenched in the longterm strategy success, sustainability here, that’s all you can ask for,” he said.
Of the trio, Garcia has been the most public-facing owner. As such, her signature will be on the league’s official game ball.
“She is just a powerhouse in life,” Brandon said. “She was a successful athlete who transitioned to running a multitude of businesses that have been successful. I have had an opportunity to work with Dany on a daily basis and she’s been a great leader as we’ve built this.”
Brandon continued, heaping praise on Johnson and Cardinale as well.
“We all know who Dwayne is, obviously, but what I’ve been incredibly impressed with is his attention to detail and his focus. Everyone knows his story, playing at the University of Miami and on national championship teams, and he often says the XFL was built for a player like him, player 54 on a 53-man roster. We’re giving them an opportunity to continue to chase their dreams. Just this year we saw two XFL alumni, Taylor Heineke and P.J. Walker, beat Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.”
“Gerry Cardinale is the straw that stirs the drink. He has had an amazing career in sports and entertainment properties. He’s involved along with the partners at RedBird on a daily basis too.”
The Shield, ESPN, & More
The NFL and XFL announced their partnership shortly after Johnson gave an introduction at Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles last year. It remains to be seen if the NFL will adopt or pick up any of the XFL’s rules.
“The NFL has been extremely supportive in football operations,” Brandon said. “Troy Vincent specifically and his team. I view us as a steward of the game of football and to our athletes and fans. We’re looking at how we can advance the game. We are not rooted in 100 years of tradition so we have to look at it through a different lens on a daily basis. We are league of innovation but not a league of gimmicks, so it is all about finding ways to look at the game differently.”
Outside of the NFL, the XFL’s biggest partner is ESPN. The two partnered in May 2022 in an exclusive multi-year deal that will see all 43 of the league’s games broadcasted on ABC, ESPN, and FX.
ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro said in a release: “The XFL will tap into sports fans’ deep love of football by emphasizing competitive action while dedicating itself to innovation and entertainment. You can see a great path to success when you combine the reach and influence of ESPN and Disney with the collective vision of XFL leadership led by Dany, Dwayne, and Gerry.”
Over the course of three years, the league’s partners have grown to include Genius Sports, Bolt6, GSTQ, Under Armour, Under the Lights Flag Football, and many more.
The XFL’s first game will kick off Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN between the Orlando Guardians and the Houston Roughnecks.
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