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XFL on brink after suspending operations, laying off employees

World Wrestling Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon (Credit: XFL)

The long-term future of the rebooted XFL is in major doubt after the spring-season American football league suspended its operations and laid off virtually all its employees.

The XFL cancelled the reminder of its inaugural season last month due to the global Covid-19 pandemic and committed to returning to 2021.

But according to an ESPN report, there are no plans to return next year even though a handful of core staff remain. “It’s done,” a former employee told ESPN. “It’s not coming back.”

There has been no immediate comment from the league on its current status. The league did post on Twitter a short video clip of actor Jake Gyllenhaal waving goodbye, and several XFL staffers posted individual accounts of their being laid off.

The XFL had proven a mixed success before it stopped play due to the ongoing public health crisis.

In early March, domestic television ratings fell below the one-million mark for the first time. The March 8 game between the St. Louis BattleHawks and DC Defenders averaged 767,000 viewers on cable network FS1, representing the smallest audience yet for the rebooted league. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Vipers-Los Angeles Wildcats game later in the day on ESPN averaged 833,000.

XFL commissioner Oliver Luck also admitted to SportBusiness that attendances in both Los Angeles and New York needed to improve.

But the BattleHawks were a huge local success story, with the team opening up the upper deck of the Dome at America’s Center in downtown St. Louis for its planned future home games before they were called off. The team generated league-best home crowds of 29,554 and 27,527 in its two home games.

Other XFL team markets such as Washington were similarly praised for building a vibrant in-venue fan experience, and the overall quality of play was praised as solid given where the XFL is in its lifecycle and where it exists in the overall framework of American football.

Unlike the first version of the XFL, which was backed by World Wrestling Entertainment at a corporate level, the reboot was financially supported by the individual personal fortune of WWE chairman and chief executive Vince McMahon, including liquidated WWE stock. The outspoken executive, however, has also been dogged in recent months by other sizable corporate issues at WWE, including a reeling share price and executive departures.

Read this: XFL confident its second act will prove a success and avoid same fate as AAF