May 7, 2020 - Economy & Business

XFL seeks new owners after bankruptcy filing

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The XFL has launched a Hail Mary to find a new owner, one month after the filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Driving the news: Investment bank Houlihan Lokey is managing the process, with letters of intent due by June 12, according to a pitch deck obtained by Axios. Formal bids are due on July 6.

The basic sales pitch is similar to what we're seeing from all sorts of other cash-strapped companies in all sorts of other industries: We were doing fine until the pandemic, and could therefore do fine again once it's over.

  • The XFL claims to have been on page to generate $46 million in revenue during its debut season, before it was cut short.
  • This includes average game attendance of nearly 20,000, with an attendee net promoter score of 66. Plus 1.9 million average broadcast viewers for nationally distributed games.
  • Both attendance and viewership were declining as the season progressed — something not noted in the pitch deck — but not the sort of crashes seen by the XFL in its first incarnation or by the more recent upstart failure of the Alliance of American Football.

The big question: Will anyone really be willing to buy the entire league, as opposed to scooping up select assets?

  • Industry investors I speak with are skeptical, but also acknowledge that sports sometimes entices unknown or unexpected suitors.
  • "There are lots of people who are very rich but not rich enough to own an NFL team, so maybe someone will see this as the next best thing at a bargain price," says one investor who is not considering an XFL bid.

The bottom line: Any buyer would have two choices. The first would be to just wait out the pandemic, and hope to resume operations next spring. The second would be to reimagine the XFL within the pandemic context, perhaps as a made-for-television product that eschews in-person fans altogether.

  • That latter option is something that only a bankrupt league, with very few fixed costs left, could seriously entertain for the long-term.

Go deeper: The XFL is dead. Long live the XFL

Go deeper

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