The NFL and XFL have reached a partnership agreement focused on game innovation and protecting players’ health, the XFL announced Monday.
XFL officials have made it clear that the collaboration will not include player participation for developmental purposes, but that compatibility is notable given the growing number of alternative leagues in the football scene.
The XFL is set to resume play in February 2023 under new owners Danny Garcia, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Redbird Capital Partners. News of the agreement comes as the revived USFL works on its launch in April. The deal is non-exclusive and does not prevent either league from working with the others going forward.
XFL president Ross Brandon told ESPN that the NFL-XFL agreement will give the NFL a “petri dish” to experiment with proposed rules, test new equipment and develop potential officials and coaches.
Brandon, a Buffalo Bills executive for two decades, said NFL officials routinely discussed the need for such an outlet after the NFL closed down in 2007.
“People have been asking, ‘What are the opportunities to look at the game from a different perspective from a player development point of view?” Brandon told ESPN. “How can you be an incubator or accelerator in so many different sectors, from management to rule innovations to playing surfaces, to player development?” You can continue.
“Any opportunity the NFL has to advance the game of football, I think they’ve always been open to it, and we’ve had a really good dialogue, led by our own property group.”
Garcia told ESPN that the partnership with the NFL is not intended to put the XFL in its rightful place [as] developmental cycle. In both previous incarnations under former owner Vince McMahon, in 2000 and 2020, the XFL was unable to use contract players for NFL teams. XFL suspended operations and declared bankruptcy in April 2020, prompting McMahon to sell.
When asked if the XFL could one day develop into a center for the use of dedicated NFL players or create another type of participation agreement, as happened in NFL Europe, Garcia said: “This is no. We are a spring league. We will play at the highest level. In the spring.” There is no expectation for any player involved to change the dynamic. This is not how we implement our vision.”
Garcia, Johnson and Jerry Cardinale of RedBird Capital Partners met last fall with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent to begin discussing the partnership. Johnson appeared on the field of Super Bowl LVI, announcing his impending launch to fans and television audiences.
XFL has built its 2020 edition as a reimagined soccer brand and has plans to continue that approach, making it what Garcia said would be a “natural” partner for the NFL.
“One of the things that we made clear at the beginning is that we are going to take a supervisory position on the game and the football game, expand it and be influential in the industry,” Garcia said. “So I would say the industry looks at us for what we are, is deeply inclined to innovate, and we were confident that having important conversations and expressing what we want to achieve would be beneficial to anyone sitting in the room with us.” We are excited about that. Our relationships with football and the NFL are deep and long-standing, so it’s been a natural process.”
In a statement issued by XFL, Vincent said: “XFL has shown us that innovation is one of its core principles. We hope this relationship will support further development and improvements in the game of football at all levels.”
The XFL football staff has been a regular attendance at recent college games. Brandon said the league is working on plans for regional groupings this fall, as it will test new approaches to evaluating players, with a view to opening training camps by January 2023.
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