The XFL has been sold to a group that includes former WWE star Dwayne “The Rock’’ Johnson, giving the bankrupt football league the kind of star power that may draw even non-sports fans. Variety’s sister site Sportico first reported the news.
Johnson, an actor and producer who played college football at the University of Miami, teamed up with Gerry Cardinale’s RedBird Capital to buy the league just hours before a planned auction was scheduled to begin.
They paid $15 million, splitting it evenly. Johnson’s business partner, Dany Garcia, who is also his ex-wife, will be a stakeholder as well.
RedBird has made a litany of sports-related investments, including some with ties to the National Football League and its players.
The presence of Johnson, meantime, continues pro wrestling’s involvement in the spring football league, which was founded—and funded—by WWE Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Vince McMahon.
The XFL filed for bankruptcy in April after the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the cancellation of its inaugural season, which got off to a promising start in terms of television audience. The league had a broadcast agreement with Fox.
With live sports a reliable vehicle to deliver ratings, there’s a good chance a number of traditional TV networks—and perhaps streaming companies—would seek to add the XFL to their portfolios. Besides the league, networks would likely seek a tie-up with Johnson, who is the executive producer of “The Titan Games,’’ a sports competition reality series on NBC.
The XFL is the latest sports-related move for Cardinale and RedBird, which recently bought French soccer team Toulouse. In addition, Cardinale—along with Oakland A’s executive Billy Beane—created a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, that’ll focus on buying companies in sports, media and data analytics.
The private equity firm is also an investor in the YES Network, the regional sports network that shows New York Yankees games, as well as On Location Experiences, which is partly owned by the NFL, and also OneTeam Partners, a tie-up that includes the unions that represent MLB and NFL players.
In its bankruptcy filing, Alpha Entertainment, the XFL’s parent, listed the league with assets and liabilities in the range of about $10 million to $50 million.
McMahon announced the XFL’s reboot in 2018, and spent two years developing the eight-team league.
The XFL drew more than 3 million viewers in its first week. The audience was about half that number in its fifth and final week before the shutdown.
The original XFL, created in 2001 in partnership with NBC, folded after one season.
XFL President Jeffrey Pollack oversaw the sale process for the league.