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Saturday, December 14 Business

XFL steps up player recruitment ahead of draft

STAMFORD — The Vince McMahon-backed XFL started this week to invite players to join its pool of draft prospects, as the league’s rebooted version approaches its inaugural 2020 season.

XFL officials plan to send out several hundred invitations as they prepare for the league’s draft in October and season launch in February. After evaluating current and former professional players, the league’s eight teams will each draft 70 for their rosters.

“Extending invitations to our draft process marks the next step on an extraordinary football journey,” XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck said in a statement. “Many of the outstanding athletes who receive a commissioner’s invitation will be among the first to take the field in our new league, proudly representing their fans and their communities.”

XFL officials have not named the players whom they are inviting, although speculation about signings has percolated since the league’s return was announced in January 2018.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is one of the stars whom some league observers have suggested the XFL might recruit.

But Kaepernick appears more interested in returning to the NFL. He has not played professionally since the 2016 season, which was marked by the controversy surrounding his protests during the National Anthem.

The players who end up on XFL rosters will likely be much less well-known than Kaepernick. All of the league’s eight teams have held “showcases” this summer where prospective league players have practiced in front of XFL coaches.

In May, the league announced multiyear television deals with ABC, ESPN and Fox.

In the XFL’s first version, a single season in 2001, games were shown on NBC. The matches started with strong ratings, but soon saw their audience decline.

The revamped XFL is launching with teams in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington, D.C.

Amid the NFL’s perennial ratings reign among American sports, significant challenges face new professional football leagues.

In April, the Alliance of American Football stopped eight weeks into its first season, despite a $250 million investment in February from its chairman.

To put the XFL on a more solid fiscal footing, McMahon has made a series of major investments. He sold nearly $272 million worth of WWE stock in March to fund Alpha Entertainment LLC, a business that is supporting XFL’s launch.

In December 2017, McMahon sold about $100 million of WWE shares to fund Alpha. He made an additional $22 million stock sale last December.

“The XFL has been methodical and deliberate in everything they have done thus far,” Josh Shuart, chairman of marketing and sports management at Sacred Heart University, said in a recent interview. “Rather than competing in a ‘race for the cash’ (like the AAF), they have followed their plan, and allowed it to progress on their own terms. In the process, the XFL has developed great buy-in from their new partners, who seem genuinely thrilled to be involved.”

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While Greenwich resident McMahon is financing the XFL, he has said that he has no plans to step down as WWE’s CEO.

The two enterprises are neighbors: WWE is headquartered at 1241 E. Main St., on Stamford’s East Side; XFL is based at 1266 E. Main St.

In March, WWE announced that it would relocate its headquarters within the city by early 2021.

pschott@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2236; twitter: @paulschott

Paul Schott|Staff reporter

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