One of the biggest sports stories over the past week was the announcement, and incredibly quick demise, of the Super League. A group of Europe’s largest soccer franchises, wanting to make more money, hastily announced they were forming their own competition to rival the Union of European Football Associations Champions League.
The response from fans was swift and harsh. Near universal condemnation from fans and analysts alike — with one of the most vocal critics being late-night host James Corden — who used his show to offer a passionate rebuke of the Super League.
If you listen to what Corden had to say, you could easily see it applying to the CFL and its possible partnership/merger with the twice-defunct XFL. Hundred-year-old franchises built for the communities they play in; ownership groups buying into a league they don’t understand; and, most notably, that money is the only reason this is a consideration.
We have seen very little push back from the media in Canada on a CFL-XFL merger and I count on one hand the number of journalists in this country who have been willing to repudiate the “XFL is the CFL’s saviour” narrative. But when the country’s largest sports media company also has a stake in the league it covers, it doesn’t behoove them to criticize the discussions since they are likely to cash in if a CFL-XFL merger occurs.
But this is more than just calling out media members for their willingness to push their employer’s agenda. I just keep coming back to the question of why. Why is the CFL willing to flush more than a century of tradition down the toilet to partner with a brand that only reminds people of failure?
The XFL has gone out of business twice. The most recent time was pandemic-related, but if Vince McMahon truly believed this second XFL had the chance to succeed long-term, do you really think he would have pushed the eject button so quickly?
Ratings were dwindling and interest in the product was waning. We have seen over decades that American football fans do not care about spring football. Every attempt to establish it has failed. The only one that nearly succeeded happened almost 40 years ago and did so because they were able to attract major stars.
First-round NFL draft picks went to the United States Football League with names like Jim Kelly, Steve Young, and Reggie White choosing the fledgling league over the established one. That is not going to happen this time around. Not the least because the sporting landscape in the United States has changed so drastically, but because no one is going toe-to-toe with the NFL and beating them at anything.
So stop hanging your hate on a fleeting success story from four decades ago. It doesn’t apply to modern times and no amount of The Rock’s popularity or RedBird Capital’s money is going to change that. The average, casual sports fan has no idea who owns what and they mostly don’t care.
And speaking of RedBird Capital, remember the Super League we talked about earlier? Guess who was one of the driving forces behind that. Yep, RedBird Capital, who just recently purchased an ownership stake in Liverpool F.C.
If they were willing to destroy a century of soccer tradition in England for a few extra dollars, imagine what they would be willing to do with a much less stable brand in the CFL.
We all want to see the CFL thrive, but at what cost if it teams up with the XFL? Those involved in these talks need to think long and hard about what they are selling out to potentially add a few extra dollars to their bank accounts.
If they don’t, the CFL might end up making a Super League-sized mistake of their own with no way of coming from back from it, and Canadian football as we know it will be gone forever.