New Details on XFL Closing Down and How Employees Were Caught Unaware

Apr 25, 2020 - by James Walsh

New details have become available detailing the days leading up to the XFL’s closing. Sports Business Daily published a report looking at the days following March 20th, when the XFL made the call to cancel the rest of its inaugural season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and notes that things were optimistic at first before signs began to appear that not everything was going well.

According to the site, morale was high on the day of the season’s cancellation, thanks in part to then-CEO and Commissioner Oliver Luck’s public statement alongside president Jeffrey Pollack which said that they looked forward to returning in 2021. Employees were still working for the next few days with the idea that another season would happen including budgetary planning, schedules and more. However, a lack of communication followed along with “subtle changes in management direction” which gave the impression that Vince McMahon was looking to potentially step away from the league. Among those moves were orders issued for the social media accounts of the teams and leagues to change any messaging about future games and instead focus on “Thank You” style messages.

Of course, McMahon’s decision became official on April 10th when a conference call was held in which all employees — almost 400 in total — were laid off. A Chapter 11 filing was made three days later. The outlet reports that league insiders had no idea that it was coming, even the morning before the conference call.

Pollack reportedly met with Vince McMahon in April 2nd for a meeting, which some believe had to do with planning for 2021. He had already been told about venue agreements as well as the potential to move the Tampa Bay Vipers to Orlando. Teams were being told that week that they would receive templates for club business plans for the 2021 season, and schedules were being developed along with budgets for the next season which had been submitted to Luck. Communication began to get inconsistent in amid the planning for WrestleMania 36, with one all-hands meeting scheduled for March 27th being canceled without explanation.

Things started to become clear to team presidents on April 8th when a conference call was held and they were told by Senior Vice President of Team Business Operations Derek Throneburg that all deposits for 2021 tickets would be returned to customers, whether they’d been asked for or not. The question of when the league would tell fans about the next season was not answered. Again, while XFL business partners were getting the clear idea that the league wouldn’t be coming back, the employees were still not in the know. Employees found on the morning of the 10th that they had bigger paychecks than expected deposited into their accounts but thought that they were getting furloughed or the like, not that the league was shutting down.

As reported earlier this week, Luck is suing Vince McMahon claiming wrongful termination for what is believed to be several million dollars. He was reportedly hired for at least $20 million over multiple years, and sources indicated that the contract said he would be due the remaining balance if terminated without cause. The firing is said to be for just cause but Luck has disputed the allegations listed in his termination latter.

Vince McMahon has issued a statement through his attorney Jerry McDevitt as reported by The Athletic sports business reporter Daniel Kaplan which reads:

“Oliver Luck’s services as Commissioner and CEO of The XFL were terminated by a letter sent to him on Apr. 9, 2020 which explained the reasons for the termination. As to the lawsuit he filed, his allegations will be disputed and the position of Mr. McMahon will be set forth in our response to his lawsuit.”

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