By Terrance Turner
Five months after shutting down due to COVID-19, the XFL is back! (Kind of.)
Today, news broke that the league was purchased for about $15 million by a group of investors that include actor and athlete Dwayne Johnson. He bought the XFL with two partners: Gerry Cardinale (CEO of Redbird Capital) and business partner Dany Garcia — his ex-wife.
Garcia and Johnson were married for over a decade before splitting in 2007. (They have an 18-year-old daughter, Simone.) The two founded Seven Bucks Productions, a multi-platform production company, in 2012. The company produced the TV shows “Ballers” and NBC’s “The Titan Games”. It also helped bring some of Johnson’s biggest box-office hits to the screen. Between 2017 and 2019, Garcia served as executive producer for “Baywatch”, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” and “Hobbs and Shaw” — all starring Johnson. Now, Dany Garcia has become the first female owner of a major sports league in America.
Garcia reacted to the historic news via Twitter: “Honored to be making history by following my dreams,” she tweeted. In the tweet, Garcia also thanked Johnson and Cardinale. Gerry Cardinale is the founder and managing partner of Redbird Capital, a private investment firm. Redbird has many sports connections: it co-founded OneTeam, which helps athletes “maximize the value of their name, image and likeness rights”. The organization works with the players’ associations of the MLB and NFL, among others.
According to Sportico, which broke the story, two major hurdles remain. The sale must be approved at bankruptcy court on Friday, Aug. 7. If all goes well, the sale should become official by Aug. 21. Significantly, Johnson, Garcia and Cardinale purchased the XFL from the now-bankrupt Alpha Entertainment, founded by WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon. Johnson was a superstar in the WWE universe before becoming one of Hollywood’s most bankable talents. Now, he’s buying the company of his onetime WWE boss. (Incidentally, Johnson & Garcia’s daughter — 18-year-old Simone Johnson — signed a contract with WWE in February.)
Alpha Entertainment filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 13, after the XFL shut down due to coronavirus. There were more than 30 bids for the football league in court. But according to ESPN, the bid by Johnson & company was the only qualified one. Now, the league may resurge by next year. Garcia told ESPN that the XFL may return in 2021. “We’re planning for it,” she said.
“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,” Garcia said. “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.”
Johnson reacted to the sale with gratitude. “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. “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.” He shared a similar sentiment on Twitter, adding the hashtag “full circle”. (Johnson played football at the University of Miami from 1990 to 1994. He also played briefly in the CFL. He had only $7 — just seven bucks — when he got cut from the Calgary Stampeders.)
“For Dwayne, Gerry and myself, this property represents an incredible opportunity,” Garcia added in a statement today. “Sports and entertainment are the foundations of the businesses I have built.” Indeed, many of the films she produced with Johnson (“Fighting with My Family”, “Skyscraper”, “Ballers”, “The Titan Games”) have an athletic bent — or just athletic feats by Johnson and his superhero physique.
“It is a privilege to partner with Dany and Dwayne on the acquisition of the XFL,” said Gerry Cardinale, Founder and Managing Partner of RedBird Capital Partners. XFL President and Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Pollack was more effusive: “I could not imagine a better outcome for the XFL. Dany, Dwayne, and Gerry are the best possible ownership group for exciting journey ahead,” he stated. “I think our [XFL] players, fans, and coaches are in for something special.”
How former and current XFL players will react to this news is still unclear. But rapper Wale clearly has plans. Wale tweeted today that he will be playing in the league next year:
UPDATE: The sale was approved on Friday, Aug. 7, in a Delaware bankruptcy court. U.S. District Judge Laurie Silverstein allowed the sale to proceed after the XFL resolved a dispute over the $15 million sale price with the court’s unsecured creditors’ committee. Johnson, along with Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital Partners, will officially assume control of the XFL from former owner Vince McMahon later this month.
UPDATE: Johnson confirmed the takeover today via Twitter: