The announcement this week that actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson bought the bankrupt XFL from former boss, Vince McMahon, raised some eyebrows. That the megastar did so with his ex-wife Dany Garcia and a private equity firm just added to the curiosity.
The group’s $15 million bid pulls the league out of bankruptcy that came from the mid-season cancellation of play due to the pandemic. The second iteration of the XFL (the league initially flopped in 2001) returned to strong wagering interest and promising TV ratings this past February, taking advantage of the usual post Super Bowl hangover.
Putting the former Miami (FL) defensive lineman in charge shifts the focus towards the on-field product.
“The acquisition of the XFL with my talented partners, Dany Garcia and Gerry Cardinale, is an investment for me that’s rooted deeply in two things — my passion for the game and my desire to always take care of the fans,” said Johnson in a statement appearing on ESPN.com. “With pride and gratitude for all that I’ve built with my own two hands, I plan to apply these callouses to the XFL and look forward to creating something special for the players, fans and everyone involved for the love of football.”
XFL embraced sports betting culture
A major element to the XFL broadcasts in February and March was sports betting. The bottom third scoreboard showed the line and totals for each contest along with the current score. With more states legalizing wagering in 2020 than the same time one year prior, it made sense.
FanDuel Sportsbook saw that the XFL’s Seattle versus DC debut did 20 times more handle than the AAF (now defunct) debut between Atlanta and Orlando in 2019. FD saw a 45% jump in XFL handle from Week 1 to Week 2, and a 12% jump in DFS. During Week 2, 43% of the bets on FanDuel came from in-game wagering.
Patrick Eichner from PointsBet told TheLines that the XFL did more business in every measurable metric in Week 1 than the AAF did in their entire 2019 season, which lasted eight weeks.
“We saw continual strong performances in the weeks that followed,” Eichner said of the XFL’s action among bettors. “There were some small downticks, in terms of bets placed and handle, which is to be expected. In general, I think there was some lasting power there.”
Eichner noted the league’s embrace of sports betting elements helped them maintain interest, which wasn’t the case with the AAF. With wagering expanding to states that are known for supporting football but aren’t in the XFL footprint like Colorado, Michigan and Illinois – that should drive further handle.
We’ll likely have to wait until the winter to smell what Johnson and his partners are cooking. If the coronavirus pandemic continues, it likely means bubble games and no cup snakes in the crowds.