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Canadian Football League and XFL ownership formalize talks on growing the game

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Dan Barnes  •  Postmedia” Dwayne Johnson attends the world premiere of “Fast & Furious presents Hobbs & Shaw,” at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood July 13, 2019. Photo by Chris Delma /AFP via Getty Images

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It’s neither bailout nor financial partnership — rather a commitment to collaborate on growing their brands and the game of football.

But Wednesday’s announcement that the Canadian Football League and the third coming of the XFL — whose monied ownership group stars one-time Calgary Stampeder and current Hollywood icon Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson — have entered into formal talks between them at the highest levels will surely commence many other tongues wagging. And it’s certainly not hard to imagine that public conversation will centre on the financial possibilities for the cash-poor CFL.

“That’s the farthest thing from the truth, the money concept,” XFL chair and owner Dany Garcia said Wednesday. “But you make a great point — everyone is going to have a lot of fun with speculation.

“The truth is that like the CFL, we are deeply invested in adding innovation, adding opportunity and expanding on the football experience in a major way. So during this time since we acquired the XFL, that has been our daily activity, looking for incredible partners to collaborate with, to align with, to see what the future of this incredible property could be. And the CFL, quite simply, was doing the same thing.”

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  <p> This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. </p>     <h2>Article content</h2> <p>She was referring to the CFL’s working partnerships with football entities in Mexico, Europe and Asia, an outreach championed by commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who hopes to turn the initial steps into broadcast revenue streams.</p> <img alt="CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie speaks at a news conference in Halifax on January 23, 2020." data-src="https://smartcdn.prod.postmedia.digital/torontosun/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/FBO_CFL_HOUSE_OF_COMMONS_AMBROSIE_20200506_78337456-scaled.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=288" height="1892" src="https://smartcdn.prod.postmedia.digital/torontosun/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/FBO_CFL_HOUSE_OF_COMMONS_AMBROSIE_20200506_78337456-scaled.jpg?quality=5&strip=all&w=100" width="2560" /> CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie speaks at a news conference in Halifax on January 23, 2020. Photo by Andrew Vaughan /Canadian Press <p>“Randy, working with the board of governors, has been on a path of growth, which I’m sure you know as they have their global conversations and expansion initiatives,” said Garcia. “And all of a sudden there were like-minded similarities in what the football experience could be and can be for athletes and for fans in the community. That’s really where the alignment is, on the vision, the future and the possibility.”</p> <p>There is further alignment through Johnson’s roots — his father Rocky was born in Nova Scotia — as well as the Rock’s brief history with the Stamps, who relegated the defensive lineman to their practice roster in 1995, then sent him home with seven dollars in his pocket. Johnson famously celebrates that turning point in his life — as it led to incredible riches and happiness — and he explained its importance again in an Instagram post on Wednesday.</p> <p>“I knew in my heart I was going to make it in the CFL and parlay that into a very successful career in the NFL. Maybe even win a Super Bowl,” he wrote. “But neither of those dreams came close to coming true. Truth is, I just wasn’t good enough and it wasn’t my time.</p> <p>“The CFL sent me home. I was still grateful to a man who would eventually become a mentor and friend, Wally Buono for even giving me the opportunity. I had seven bucks. But it’s funny how sometimes life comes full circle. Now I’m back. Same hungry kid, but much different man.</p>  <h2>Advertisement</h2>      <p> This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. </p>     <h2>Article content</h2> <p>“As an owner of the XFL, our discussions with the CFL have been very exciting. There’s a real pulse here because you can feel the unique opportunity we can potentially create together. Wherever it all leads, I can tell you this one is personal to me and is driven by all my passion because me being cut by the CFL was the greatest thing that happened. It set me on a path that years later would lead me right back to the league, to help create even greater and bigger opportunities for all our players and all our fans.”<br /></p>     <p>We apologize, but this video has failed to load.</p>    <iframe frameborder="0" height="360px" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Qnu7jEVwB3g?embed_config={'relatedChannels': [],'autonav':true}&autoplay=0&playsinline=1&enablejsapi=1" width="480px"> </iframe>  <p>Together with RedBird Capital’s principal Gerry Cardinale, Garcia and Johnson spent US$15 million last August to purchase the assets of the XFL’s previous ownership group, which was backed by Vince McMahon. That company, Alpha Entertainment, filed for bankruptcy April 13, after first suspending the XFL’s 2020 season on March 12. The league’s eight teams had each played five of their 10 scheduled regular season games before the COVID-19 pandemic descended.</p> <p>In October, the new XFL ownership group announced its commitment to an inaugural season in 2022. On Wednesday, the XFL said planning for its 2022 launch is “on hold” pending the outcome of conversations with the CFL.</p> <p>The CFL, meanwhile, cancelled plans for a last-ditch, six-game 2020 season in a Winnipeg bubble last August but is committed to a full 2021 campaign, beginning June 10 with a Grey Cup rematch between Winnipeg and Hamilton.</p>     <p>We apologize, but this video has failed to load.</p>    <iframe frameborder="0" height="360px" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/X168QcUAUyU?embed_config={'relatedChannels': [],'autonav':true}&autoplay=0&playsinline=1&enablejsapi=1" width="480px"> </iframe>  <p>Ambrosie and XFL president and CEO Jeffrey Pollack had already been engaged in regular conversation before the two sides decided to formalize the process. However, there is no stated end point. On Wednesday, none of the principals were suggesting there will be player movement between the leagues or inter-league exhibition games.</p>  <h2>Advertisement</h2>      <p> This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. </p>     <h2>Article content</h2> <p>“We have, I think, a shared sense of possibility and potential, and there is a common desire to grow the game, and that’s a nice place to start the conversations ahead,” said Pollack. “We’re honoured to be talking to the CFL. We have tremendous respect for what the CFL has accomplished over the years. It has a rich history, and legacy and tradition that we respect and we love. And there is a lot to still discuss and explore.</p> <p>“Where this goes, we don’t know. It’s a conversation, it’s an exploration. As I said it’s about possibility and potential and together we’re going to walk down this road and explore together, keep learning about each other and learn about what is possible. It’s too early to address any of that.”</p> <p>Ambrosie said the CFL sees this as an opportunity to grow the fan base, to learn from leaders in the entertainment business, and he isn’t sure what will come of it.</p> <p>“Where it takes us we don’t know, but we’re going to make some great friends and learn a lot and we’re going to energize each other,” said Ambrosie. “Those are the short-term priorities.”</p> <p><a href="mailto:dbarnes@postmedia.com">dbarnes@postmedia.com</a></p> <p><a href="http://Twitter.com/sportsdanbarnes">Twitter.com/sportsdanbarnes</a></p>   <h2>Share this article in your social network</h2>       <h2>Advertisement</h2>      <p> This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. </p>         <h2>The Toronto Sun Headline News</h2> <p>Sign up to receive daily headline news from the Toronto SUN, a division of Postmedia Network Inc.</p>    By clicking on the sign up button you consent to receive the above newsletter from Postmedia Network Inc. You may unsubscribe any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link at the bottom of our emails. Postmedia Network Inc. | 365 Bloor Street East, Toronto, Ontario, M4W 3L4 | 416-383-2300    <h2>Thanks for signing up!</h2> <p>A welcome email is on its way. If you don't see it please check your junk folder.</p> <p>The next issue of The Toronto Sun Headline News will soon be in your inbox.</p>  <p> We encountered an issue signing you up. Please try again </p>     <h3>Comments</h3> <p> Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. 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