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Can Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson Make XFL Work After Two Failed Attempts?

Dwayne Johnson
Image by Starfrenzy, Bigstockphoto

The English football season runs from August until May, and then there’s something of a void in-between unless there’s a major international tournament scheduled.

Would a summer league be a success? Perhaps, but we’ll probably never know.

In North America, there’s a similar conundrum when the NFL season comes to an end following February’s Super Bowl. American football fans have to wait a full six months until the start of the new campaign in August.

That was one of the reasons why the XFL was born, a spring-summer counterpoint to the NFL designed to appeal to both hardcore football fans and casual supporters alike.

The problem is that, well, it hasn’t worked, with two big-money attempts to get the XFL off the ground ending in bankruptcy in 2001 and 2020.

However, that could be all be about to change now that Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, himself a former American football starlet prior to building a career in wrestling and acting, has taken the reins.

Johnson, alongside a consortium of investors that includes his ex-wife, Dany, acquired the rights to the XFL brand for $15 million (£12.4 million) in August 2020. A couple of months later, they announced plans for a revival of XFL football in spring 2022.

That was paused thereafter, but now the green light has finally been given for XFL 2023 – the season kicks off on Saturday.

There’s eight teams duking it out across a 43-game season, with teams including Houston Roughnecks, St. Louis Battlehawks and the Vegas Vipers battling it out for the trophy. There’s a money-spinning TV deal with Disney and a raft of innovative rules including a ‘Golden Challenge’, which is effectively like giving a football manager a chance to review a decision via VAR.

Could this finally be the year that XFL takes off?

What Is the XFL?

American Football and Yard Lines

Originally devised by WWE supremo Vince McMahon, XFL was an American football competition amped up – there were cameras in the cheerleaders’ locker rooms, touchline confrontations between coaches and journalists and fans in the stands were actively encouraged to behave badly.

Unsurprisingly, the inaugural XFL lasted just one season with complaints about the ‘sensationalised’ broadcasts and poor quality of play. After filing for bankruptcy, reports suggested that McMahon and broadcast partner NBC both lost $35 million in a single year.

That was clearly an itch that McMahon wanted to scratch, because fast forward two decades and he decided to bring the XFL back.

This time, he wanted to create legitimate football league that would sate the needs of fans in the spring and summer, so McMahon kicked his gimmicks into touch and instead focused on delivering a faster, more mainstream version of the NFL.

The second coming got underway in 2020, but after just five weeks of the new season disaster struck – the global health crisis effectively ending the XFL’s reboot before it had even begun.

Once more McMahon filed for bankruptcy, but this time he gave up on the XFL concept by selling up to his former WWE employee Johnson.

Will lightning strike thrice in 2023?