The XFL laid off nearly all of its staff, effective immediately, on Friday morning as it suspended operations without even concluding its inaugural season due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. It is unknown if the league will resume or be permanently disbanded.
The upstart league’s first season was interrupted last month as the virus swept throughout the United States and forced sports leagues nationwide to put their seasons on hiatus. The XFL had played just five games before it canceled the remainder of its 10-game regular season on March 20.
The eight-team league initially announced plans to return in 2021, but no mention of next season was made in Friday’s call informing employees of the decision.
“The decision has been made to immediately suspend day-to-day operations of the XFL in Stamford and each of our eight markets.” Jeffrey Pollack, the league’s president and chief operating officer, said on a conference call to XFL employees that was obtained by Front Office Sports.
“The XFL as an entity has been hard hit and is affected more directly than most in the sports industry. We had no alternative but to stop right in the middle of our first season just as we were continuing to build our foundation and our future,” he said.
Pollack clarified that the suspension of operations included the termination of employment for all on the call.
“What this means is that everyone’s employment by the XFL is terminated, effective today,” he continued. “This has all happened very quickly, and I know it’s painful to hear. Rest assured, this has nothing to do with your performance or what was achieved. This is about a global circumstance that none of us created. While it is my unimaginable task to deliver this message to you today, it has also been my absolute pleasure and honor to work with and know all of you.”
A handful of XFL executives reportedly remain employed, although the details are unclear. A “small skeleton staff in Stamford,” was described on the call. Pollack also told employees that no further information was available, adding that he would not be taking questions before concluding the call.
Each XFL employee will receive their “earned but unpaid salary through April 12,” plus payment for accrued and unused vacation time. Access to XFL email accounts and other league communications platforms was also suspended immediately.
The rebooted league – the first iteration of which lasted one season in 2001 – is owned by WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon and his Alpha Entertainment company. McMahon self-funded the league, reportedly preparing to spend $500 million from his personal fortune to fund the new XFL.
“I feel bad for Vince. I think it was the right time and the right reworked product. It basically took this act of God to cause it to fail at the worst possible moment,” said Eric Jackson, president of tech and media hedge fund EMJ Capital, Ltd. “It’s been a terrible last 12 months for his sports empire.”
The XFL delivered an impressive television debut in its first week, attracting 3.3 million viewers on ABC, more than the debut of the unsuccessful Alliance of American Football, which brought 2.9 million viewers to its debut broadcast on CBS.
Bonnie Bernstein, executive producer and host of the XFL’s signature series, “For the Love of Football,” said fans shouldn’t compare the league with the AAF.
“The XFL was powered by a foundation of people with the operations, business, branding and football savvy to create a sustainable model, and a financier committed to giving them wings to fly,” Bernstein said. “You take COVID-19 out of the picture, and I don’t think we’re having this conversation.”
Across the league, XFL teams averaged 17,409 fans per game during week one. The league also innovated with broadcast and betting strategies, which excited both network executives and the league’s fanbase.
The XFL’s television partners, ESPN and Fox, had no comment.
The league’s main Twitter account had gained almost 400,000 followers alone, with an additional 613,000 on Instagram. Individual team accounts also gained substantial followings.
“On every conceivable measure, from game play to game presentation, from digital and social media to media relations, from brand marketing to the community connections in each of our eight markets, this was the best launch of a new sports league ever,” he said. “And that is because of you. And you should all feel proud of what you accomplished. I certainly am proud of you.”
-With additional reporting by Michael McCarthy