A day after the NBA suspended its season and hours after the NHL, MLS and MLB delayed their own, the XFL went a step further Thursday afternoon, calling off the remainder of its inaugural season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Currently, the XFL will not be playing its regular season games,” the league said in a statement. “However, all players will be paid their base pay and benefits for the 2020 regular season. All XFL ticket holders will be issued refunds or credit toward future games. The XFL is committed to playing a full season in 2021 and future years.”
Thursday’s announcement could be a crushing blow for the first-year, eight-team league, which was attempting to establish itself as a viable pro football option with its revamped rule book and broadcast partners in Fox Sports and ESPN/ABC.
The league’s statement left open the possibility of holding postseason contests, although the five weeks of games scheduled until then appear to be lost. Requests for clarification went unanswered. The two-round playoffs had semifinals scheduled for April 18-19.
This weekend‘s play included an L.A. Wildcats game in Seattle that was already planned to be held behind closed doors.
Before Thursday’s cancellation, things had been business as usual for the Wildcats. The team, which had lost its opening two games of the campaign, improved to 2-3 with a win at Dignity Health Sports Park last Sunday. On Tuesday, players and coaches showed up for practice at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Long Beach to prepare for the upcoming trip to Seattle. They took the field on Wednesday, too, practicing through a light rain while other sports leagues started screeching to a halt.
By late Thursday afternoon, their season had stopped as well.
It’s unclear what will come next for the league, which was founded by WWE chief executive Vince McMahon and is under the direction of Commissioner Oliver Luck. Players on the Wildcats team, for example, only arrived in Los Angeles a little more than a month ago after an extended leaguewide preseason training camp in Houston. Also, the league’s standard player contract reportedly runs until the end of May.
Compared to past spring leagues — especially last year’s failed Alliance of American Football — the XFL had been making promising strides in its first season. Its four opening-weekend television broadcasts averaged more than 3 million viewers and its overall average TV audience of 1.8 million was on par with nationally televised NBA and college basketball ratings. Some of its rule-book innovations, such as modified kickoffs and increased in-game audio access for the telecasts, received rave reviews.
Still, the start-up league, a reinvention of the 2001 league of the same name that lasted only one year, needed as much momentum as it could get. Instead, the coronavirus pandemic swept much of that away.