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Can Dwayne Johnson Finally Make the XFL a Success?

Why the Hollywood superstar might have what it takes to turn around the XFL.

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A group of investors that includes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has agreed to purchase the XFL for $15 million. The move comes just three and a half months after the upstart professional football league declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

As you might remember, the original iteration of the XFL closed down in 2001 after just one season of play. It was revived a year ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the season after just five weeks and the league folded shortly thereafter.

Since declaring bankruptcy, the XFL has been marketing itself to potential investors as a TV-friendly, ready-to-go concept that could work in a bubble a la the NBA’s Disney World restart. There are no details about what Johnson and his fellow investors plan to do with the property, but there are a few reasons to think that Johnson might be the guy who can actually make the XFL successful.

He’s a showman.

The XFL was the brainchild of Vince McMahon, the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment. Its identity has always been tied to pro-wrestling-style theatrics, something that can stand in contrast (and provide a different kind of entertainment) than the NFL. The “No Fun League” has been earned over the years by that league’s restrictions on player celebrations and “protect the shield” posturing; if anyone knows how to create a more fun, entertaining alternative, it’s The Rock.

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He loves and understands football.

Johnson won a national championship as a defensive tackle at the University of Miami, but a series of injuries cost him his starting spot on the team. He later signed with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League, but never made it into a game in his two months with the team.

Purchasing the XFL is a chance for him to apply his football knowledge in a different way, free of the physical setbacks that derailed his playing career.

He’s a winner.

Since he began his wrestling career in 1996, Johnson has been incredibly successful. He became the most popular wrestler of his generation and made the transition to acting look easy. Through Garcia Companies, a firm he co-founded with his ex-wife and business partner, Johnson has also proved his bona fides as a businessman, with investments in successful ventures like ice cream shop Salt & Straw, salad and sandwich emporium Cava, and Teremana small-batch tequila.

He found some experienced partners.

Johnson is teaming up with Gerry Cardinale, managing partner and CEO of Redbird Capital Partners, a principal investment firm with investments across sports and sports media. Redbird owns parts of the YES Network and the Toulouse Football Club, and it made a sizeable investment in a company that secures NFL commercial rights less than a year ago.

Of course, Johnson faces a steep challenge, and it’s entirely possible that some combination of the pandemic, the health risks of playing football, and unforeseen changes to the media landscape doom the XFL to fail a third time. But if that happens, we’ll be more confident than ever that the league just isn’t meant to be.

Because if Dwayne Johnson can’t save the XFL, it’s hard to imagine anyone who could.