What Happened with the XFL-CFL Merger?

So, the merger didn’t happen? Why? There is a lot of speculation around the event. We’ve got the facts.

Earlier this year The American football league XFL (Xtreme Football League) and the Canadian Football League (CFL) were once in talks to merge, combining resources and teams to make one, much bigger league. Somehow those talks have dissipated, or been shelved, according to some.


New XFL owners, famed WWE wrestler and Hollywood actor Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, bodybuilder and businesswoman Dany Garcia and private investment firm Red Bird Capital bought the league in August 2020. Its reputation as a fixer-upper project for Johnson was proven by the promise to return to playing for “an electrifying” 2022 season and him ultimately reneging on that statement, but Red Bird is providing a good injection of money to see the project done.

The CFL meanwhile is the highest level of competition in Canadian football and is currently in its first week of the 2021 league. It has the history and reputation it’s worked hard to introduce to the international but doesn’t gain the viewership numbers of its American equivalent, the NFL.

The merger was proposed as an attempt to combine audiences and money, most likely the idea of ex-CFL player Johnson.

So what’s the problem? Mainly the fact that Canadian and American football have different rules. Among other details, Canadian football is played with end zones 10 yards deeper than American football, with 12 players instead of 11 and the implementation of the “rouge”, which is a single point play awarded when the ball is legally kicked into the end zone. With a change in rules comes a change in betting on American football and Canadian football.

With football considered such a large part of both the American and Canadian identity, negotiating and compromising on conflicting football rules would be sure to ruffle some feathers.

In an official statement released on the 7th of June, the CFL expressed “positive and constructive” talks with the XFL that “explored the potential for collaboration and innovation” but that they have jointly decided not to pursue the idea “at this time”.

The club also said that they “remain open to finding new ways to work together in the future” but that for now, they are focusing on the start of the 2021 regular season and the 108th Grey Cup.

The XFL similarly released a statement that said that while their discussions with the CFL did not ultimately lead to a deal, the effort had reignited their “commitment to developing the XFL for international spring football” and adding that they expect a kickoff in the spring of 2023.

As soon as the possibility of a merger was announced in March 2021, social media was abuzz with conspiracy theories asking what a merger between the two leagues would look like. Those asking for a full merger would have to think about Canada’s biggest prize, The Grey Cup and whether the rule would have to change to allow freedom of players between teams and American players to compete. Some suggested a merger of purely TV contracts, keeping the games and players separate as before.

CFL star quarterback Bo Levi supported the idea, saying on The Bob McCown podcast: “I don’t want the history of the Canadian game to go away”. Emphasizing that he didn’t want the Canadian game to change, he added that if the industry wanted Canadian football to grow, he would like the merger to happen, calling it “an absolutely phenomenal thing.”

On Twitter, @theJdashShow said: “Damn the #europeansuperleague sounds a lot like the #CFL vs #XFL merger. Sounds great at first, and has a great idea, but eventually it will fail due to traditionalists.”

@Tinabanshee said: “I’m seeing a lot of speculation about a CFL/XFL merger. I’m the first to say I don’t want to change any of the CFL rules to make it more NFL, I don’t enjoy 4 downs.”

It is entirely possible conversations could open up again but intertwining the two leagues while keeping everyone happy would be near-impossible, and with sports in general on shaky ground given the current environment causing a drastic loss in revenue, it makes sense that discussions were put off until both were on more stable ground.



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