A group including actor and former WWE star Dwayne Johnson has agreed to purchase the XFL for about $15 million, according to a news release issued Monday morning.
The XFL declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy April 13 and has been seeking a buyer for the past three months, marketing itself as a made-for-TV product that could transition as early as 2021 to a bubble concept during the coronavirus pandemic.
Johnson and his investors — who include his business partner Dany Garcia along with RedBird Capital Partners — are making plans to play next season, Garcia told ESPN.
“We’re planning for it,” said Garcia, the first female owner of a major American sports league. “We’re doing all the steps that need to happen for the execution of that. But we’re also being mindful to what has actually been successful. It has been really interesting to see that [in sports], when you create a bubble, your players are safe. When you don’t, it’s chaos. We are a league, because of the number of teams we have, that actually can create a bubble environment. Those discussions are active.”
The sale must be approved by a bankruptcy judge at a hearing Friday. Monday afternoon, the bankruptcy court’s committee of unsecured creditors filed an objection based on certain assets included in the sale.
Garcia will have an executive position with the XFL and said that both she and Johnson will have a hands-on approach to running the league. Asked about hiring other executive-level leaders, she said: “We’ve been in close discussion with the current XFL management team.”
“There are a lot of excellent people in that team,” Garcia said. “While it’s not 100% just turning the lights on, there is still a tremendous amount of infrastructure and relationships that you can actually call people back, pull people back. We saw the work that they were doing for this year, and there was some excellent, excellent work. There is a team there.”
XFL president and chief operating officer Jeffrey Pollack is among the league’s few active employees. Most were laid off April 10.
The XFL has twice shuttered after one season, first in 2001 and again earlier this year as a result of the pandemic, and there hasn’t been a successful alternative professional football league since the AFL forced a merger with the NFL in 1970. But XFL owner Vince McMahon had been a determined aspirant, investing $200 million in the league’s second incarnation, one that promised to “reimagine” the game. But the eight teams suspended play after five weeks.
McMahon considered bidding on the XFL himself early in the bankruptcy process but ultimately decided against it.
In a statement, Johnson, 48, provided a glimpse of the McMahon-like flair he could bring to the league.
“The acquisition of the XFL with my talented partners, Dany Garcia and Gerry Cardinale, is an investment for me that’s rooted deeply in two things — my passion for the game and my desire to always take care of the fans,” said Johnson, who played football at the University of Miami from 1990 to 1994. “With pride and gratitude for all that I’ve built with my own two hands, I plan to apply these callouses to the XFL and look forward to creating something special for the players, fans and everyone involved for the love of football.”
In a statement, Pollack called the pending sale “a Hollywood ending” and said Johnson’s investors are “a dream team ownership group and the XFL is in the best possible hands going forward.”
Cardinale is the managing partner and CEO of RedBird, which manages more than $4 billion in assets. Last week, it purchased a controlling interest in Toulouse Football Club, a French soccer team. In November, it invested $125 million in a new company that secures commercial rights for the NFL
Organizational plans for the newest version of the XFL are not clear. McMahon fired XFL commissioner Oliver Luck on April 9, and Luck responded by suing McMahon for wrongful termination and is seeking $23.8 million. The lawsuit was on hold awaiting the results of the bankruptcy.
The league averaged 1.9 million television viewers per game and generated nearly $20 million in gross revenues in 2020, according to court filings. It had projected $46 million in gross revenues for the 10-game season, each data point exceeding internal expectations, according to sources.