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Mac Engel: The Rock’s new XFL is a three-year plan to succeed where Trump and Vince McMahon flopped

Fort Worth Star-Telegram logoFort Worth Star-Telegram 7/26/2022 Mac Engel, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
In this photo from July 23, 2022, Dwayne Johnson speaks onstage at the Warner Bros. theatrical session with "Black Adam" and "Shazam: Fury of the Gods" panel during 2022 Comic-Con International: San Diego at San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California. © Emma McIntyre/Getty Images North America/TNS In this photo from July 23, 2022, Dwayne Johnson speaks onstage at the Warner Bros. theatrical session with "Black Adam" and "Shazam: Fury of the Gods" panel during 2022 Comic-Con International: San Diego at San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California.

Where both Donald Trump and Vince McMahon failed, The Rock thinks he can win.

Only what Dwayne Johnson is trying to do is not win a fake wrestling match inside a ring, or convince audiences he befriended a giant gorilla on screen.

He is attempting to win at one of the worst bets in all of sport, spring football.

Only a few days after McMahon announced his retirement as CEO of WWE one of his proteges came from behind the curtain, literally to, re-start what is Vince’s most spectacular failure.

On Monday morning in Arlington at Choctaw Stadium, The Rock, who actually prefers to go by Dwayne Johnson, appeared from behind the curtain to announce yet another return of the XFL.

This will the most challenging venture The Rock has ever cooked.

“I think we’ve got a shot with this one,” he said Monday.

He will try to convince hardened sports viewers that spring football is real football.

He will try to sell to an audience that the XFL is beyond what it is, which is a minor league game full of no name players whose dream isn’t the XFL but the NFL.

The eight-team XFL, which will begin play in February of 2023, will be based in Arlington; the teams will be housed in town, and also practice at high school facilities in Southlake, Justin Northwest and Mansfield.

Teams will practice in DFW, and fly out to one of its “home” cities for the regular-season games.

It’s a similar model used by the Fox-owned USFL, the spring league that played this spring where all of the teams practiced and played in Birmingham, Alabama.

Expect the latest “new” XFL games to look similar to how they were played in 2020, when the league returned after a 20-year hiatus.

The league, which was then owned by Vince’s WWE, shutdown in April of 2020 as a result of COVID. McMahon filed for bankruptcy, and immediately started looking for a sucker ... sorry, buyer.

He found one in RedBird Capital, a hedge fund that owns several sports related properties. Johnson and U.S. entrepreneur Dany Garcia are the faces to this venture.

The league has announced media partners, which includes FX and ESPN, neither of which is likely paying the XFL a dime.

The new XFL league will survive as long as RedBird Capital wants to cover the losses, and if its network partners eventually start paying to broadcast the games.

According to people who worked in the XFL in 2020, it was taking on losses that exceeded the projected numbers.

The league’s deal with Choctaw Stadium in Arlington is for three years. Translate it this way; the league and its partners are prepared to try this venture for three years.

That was the length of time McMahon was prepared to try the XFL in 2020 before COVID crushed it.

The last startup league to really make it in the U.S. was Major League Soccer, which was fearlessly funded the late Lamar Hunt, whose mission was to see soccer finally make it in the U.S.

Johnson and Garcia are rich, but they aren’t rich enough to fund an eight-team football league by themselves.

The best development for the XFL is that McMahon, 77, is no longer associated with this damaged brand. The wrestling mogul announced his retirement as CEO from WWE last week, amid accusations of sexual harassment charges.

McMahon was a shrewd, and ruthless, business man. He also was horrible for a sports league that wanted to be taken seriously.

When he brought the XFL back in 2020, his associates involved did everything they could to keep his visibility and public involvement to a minimum.

Johnson as the front man for this attempt at minor league football is more palatable than McMahon.

Everyone loves The Rock.

Johnson is a talented salesman, but he can only do so much.

He’s not a player. He’s not a coach.

This version of the XFL sounds like it will be 24/7 streaming content; a version of HBO’s Hard Knocks in real time as the season progresses.

Both Johnson and Garcia said the same thing on Monday as anyone who has ever attempted to sell a spring football league, “There is a passion and appetite for spring football.”

What the Trans American Football League, the USFL in the 1980s, World League of American Football, the XFL (twice), and Alliance of American Football League all discovered is that while there may be an appetite for spring football, it’s really for the NFL and NCAA.

All of those spring leagues folded.

The USFL in the ‘80s had the best shot, until Trump, who owned one of the franchises, challenged the NFL in a misguided lawsuit that eventually led to the collapse of the league.

It’s 2023, and TV cannot get enough live content, so the XFL is back again.

If you smell what The Rock is cooking, it’s spring football, which will push his limits as a businessman and entertainer unlike any match he had with Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin or Triple H.

Those matches were staged, and nothing about spring football is fake.

He’s The Rock, so don’t be shocked if he wins.

He’s also Dwayne Johnson, so don’t be shocked if this latest XFL finishes like the previous two.

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