North America’s CFL & XFL leagues could merge
Though the US’s National Football League tends to take up the spotlight when it comes to American football, it’s not the only active league in North America. Since 1954, Canada has had its own moderately successful Canadian Football League.
The rulebooks are comparable, though the CFL has far fewer fans. Even so, the league has overcome bouts of financial stress, low attendance, and other challenges throughout the decades. In other words, the CFL has fought (and won) small battles with the NFL for years—and others took notice.
Back in 2018, Vince McMahon of WWE fame started his own football league, the XFL. The league promised to deliver on the action NFL fans love without the heavy rulebook—and with an extra dose of production value like that seen in the WWE.
A quick brush with bankruptcy in 2020 saw two new owners take over the XFL last August: Dany Garcia of the WWE and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Since then, rumors have started swirling that North America’s two most divergent football leagues could be headed for a merger.
At the moment, major sportsbooks in the US don’t offer bets on the CFL or XFL. The XFL once ran concurrent with the 17-week NFL season, while the CFL, run from June to November, doesn’t have a large enough following to warrant coverage from most oddsmakers.
With millions of fans (160 million, according to an ESPN poll), analysts who offer NFL betting odds and advice have their hands full to provide breaking news, matchup insight, and more from October until February. But an XFL-CFL merger could see more airtime for the leagues on popular broadcasts, which translates to more fans and a healthy dose of competition for one of the world’s most lucrative sports leagues.
Short Term Interleague Plans
On April 12, 2021, FrontOfficeSports released a report that outlined a possible partnership between the XFL and CFL. Previously, neither league had been linked together. The report included negotiations about creating a postseason event that would see the XFL and CFL’s championship teams face off against one another.
Other possibilities include interleague games that may be interspersed throughout the regular season, as well as an All-Star crossover game with teams from either league. At the moment, XFL operations are fully suspended—though their launch in 2020 saw promising TV ratings before scheduling and attendance issues contributed to the league’s bankruptcy.
Though the conversations between the XFL and CFL haven’t led to any official mergers or crossover event announcements, the fact that the XFL hasn’t relaunched operations is giving many divergent football fans hope.
Long Term Possibilities
Newly formed leagues take time to establish, no matter how popular the sport. This has been an issue for the XFL since it was founded in 2018. As of 2021, the CFL has nine teams, while the XFL had only eight teams prior to halting operations. However, working in its favor is the XFL’s big-money backing via The Rock and Garcia’s Redbird Capital group.
Meanwhile, the CFL has experience structuring the league and has the history behind it that many sports fans look for. Other than that, rule variations between both leagues will need addressing. From the size of the gridiron to the number of players on the field to the number of downs, the XFL and CFL will need to rework the playbook.
Given the XFL has no contracted players (at the moment it literally exists on paper, and nowhere else), it’s likely the league will adopt more of its CFL culture. After all, CFL fans may be less likely to adopt the XFL merger if the group strong arms negotiations to make the league look more like its NFL counterpart. Another issue is scheduling. The XFL opted for a spring season during their attempted 2020 restart, while the CFL runs from summer through autumn.
One possibility is creating a joint league that allows the XFL and CFL to run independently during the same season. The two would only join for a faceoff between league champions, which would also be national champions.
This way, the CFL is able to retain its Canadian identity—which is likely a priority for fans that have fought to keep the league going in the face of the NFL’s success. And, at the same time, the XFL is allowed to continue innovating its own interpretation of the sport.