Sometimes heroes can come from the unlikeliest of places.
With some in the media seemingly bending over backwards to justify a potential XFL merger, the CFL purists have found themselves an anti-hero just as proudly Canadian as Deadpool.
Often bemoaned for his negativity among CFL circles, Arash Madani rose to the defence of the troubled league during a recent episode of the XFL Markcast, spending nearly an hour dismantling every aspect of the XFL proposal in brutally honest fashion.
“The water carrying has to be done by somebody,” Madani said in reference to some of his colleagues at media rival TSN.
Madani was not about to pick up a pail.
“Pro football leagues do not work. There have only been two that have worked, the NFL — which is a behemoth, forget it, don’t even compare anything with the NFL — and the CFL. Every other league be it the Alliance of American Football, the World League of American Football, Arena Football 2, Arena Football, be it the XFL twice, they have all failed and there’s a reason for that,” he began his tear down of the twice-failed XFL.
Much has been made of the CFL’s failing business model since the two leagues have agreed to work together to identify opportunities for both to innovate and grow the game of football. Madani doesn’t buy it.
“It’s not just that the CFL’s business model doesn’t work, [alternative football] just doesn’t work at all. People do not have interest in anything outside of major college football and the NFL in the United States,” he continued.
“Nothing we have seen in history, from the USFL that had real stars to leagues that have had major money backing them to network supporting and investing in them, it has not succeeded.”
The CFL has been awarding the Grey Cup for over 100 years. Meanwhile, the original XFL lasted one full season in 2001. The XFL lasted just part of one season before the COVID-19 pandemic put their season on hold, which led to Vince McMahon filing for bankruptcy.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital were selected as the winning bidders last August for all of the assets of Alpha Entertainment LLC, the parent company of the XFL. It cost $15 million and the goal is to make the XFL a stable league in the future but their money and star power have resulted in nothing of substance.
“You have no football people. You have no helmets. You have nothing. You have nothing but a name. That’s all the XFL is right now. It’s a name,” Madani insisted.
“There is nothing there other than moldy uniforms and expired helmets and shoulder pads.”
The glitz and glamour of The Rock and RedBird Capital’s $4 billion are great, but none of that is a guarantee of sustainability.
“I’m going to tell you guys about what I’ve noticed about rich people with a lot of money who invest in sport. They love it in the beginning. They love being called Mr. or Mrs. and their last name. They love getting to go to the parties with the players and the coaches. They love walking the field. They love being in the broadcast booth on ESPN and CBS and NBC and the rest,” Madani explained.
“And then you know what happens after year one? They’re like, ‘Oh sh*t, we lost a lot of money.’ And then after a year or two, they lose a lot more. Suddenly that novelty wears off and it wears off in a hurry and then what ends up happening? All those ideas and all those plans and all those visions that they had for this thing, they start getting stripped away because it costs too much.”
The Rock has stated he’s excited for the ‘unique opportunity’ the CFL and XFL ‘can potentially create together,’ but a partnership is a gamble that the CFL cannot afford. It remains an indication of the board of governors’ mismanagement and lack of vision.
“They’re looking for the Hail Mary all the time. ‘Wait until we get out of the baseball stadium in Toronto — we’re going to move outdoors, we’re going to have tailgating, it’s all going to be fixed. Wait until Johnny Manziel shows up, then all our problems are solved and he’s going to sell a million tickets. We’re going to bring Ricky Williams to Toronto and he’s going to take the city by storm,'” Madani illustrated.
“Nothing is a quick fix. I understand The Rock has a lot of money and I understand RedBird has got a lot of money. They have no idea how to run a pro football league.”
The solution, according to Madani, must remain a roll-up-your-sleeves hard work approach that the CFL has failed at time and again due to a lack of vision.
“Here’s what you do: you actually have some leadership. Some people who put together an idea and a plan,” he explained.
“The CFL has been poorly run forever. It’s been poorly run at the league side and at the team side, all over the place.”
While the CFL has failed to market or engage growing grassroots areas of engagement like flag football, the league has suffered. Partnering with a failed enterprise is no substitute for those activities.
“Selling your soul to go down the river with something that is not established whatsoever for a product that can very easily get forgotten about in the sports landscape is a major mistake,” Madani emphasized.
He’s just one of the few brave enough to say it.