RIP XFL, but will its acceptance of sports betting live on in other leagues? By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports April 14, 2020 at 7:00 pm The upstart XFL this week became the first professional sports league to fall victim to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. But unlike the NBA, NHL and major league baseball, which suspended play, the XFL filed for bankruptcy and has no plans to attempt a return in 2021. For the sports betting community, the loss of the XFL was a blip on the parlay card compared to the cancellation of the NCAA’s March Madness tournament. What hurts, in the long run, was that the XFL was the first professional sports league to actually embrace legal sports betting as part of the product. XFL officials consulted with sportsbook operators on rules and encouraged its media partners to include gambling information into the broadcasts. Las Vegas-based VSiN – Vegas Stats & Information Network – had a partnership with the XFL and iHeartRadio to create audio “betcasts” programing for two games each week during the scheduled 10-game XFL season. “This notion of embracing the spread means that our mission, our design and our business infrastructure are all geared to the sports betting future that’s coming fast,” XFL President Jeffrey Pollack told ESPN’s David Purdum before the season began. Pollack has a betting background, having served as commissioner of the World Series of Poker between 2005 and 2009. During those four years, the tournament in Las Vegas grew dramatically in the number of players, the amount in the prize pool and overall media exposure. The WSOP struck a deal with ESPN during Pollock’s term to televise the tournament, including the final table of the Main Event, a partnership that remains in place today. “We see a lot of pros to leaning into the sports betting world. It’s what our fans want. We don’t see cons, we see opportunity,” Pollock told ESPN. XFL wagering during the season’s first five games wasn’t large by any stretch; William Hill U.S. CEO Joe Asher said there had been “some interest.” The league’s demise, however, leaves open the question of whether or not there is a betting market for professional football outside the NFL. Sportsbook operators did get a good read on the interest a year ago, with the failure of the Alliance of American Football, an upstart spring league which quickly folded due to mismanagement and lack of financing. The growing pandemic shut down the XFL with five games left in the regular season. “People seemed to generally like the product,” Asher said. The matter left unanswered is how interest in the XFL would have fared with gamblers as March Madness tipped off, especially as the sports betting world also focused on LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers making an NBA title run and the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs taking shape. “The XFL quickly captured the hearts and imaginations of millions of people who love football. Unfortunately, as a new enterprise, we were not insulated from the harsh economic impacts and uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 crisis,” the league said in a statement following the bankruptcy filing. “This is a heartbreaking time for many, including our passionate fans, players, and staff, and we are thankful to them, our television partners, and the many Americans who rallied to the XFL for the love of football.” The good news was that Monday’s filing with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware was a Chapter 11 reorganization, not a Chapter 7 liquidation. That means the league could try and stage a comeback. The XFL is owned by WWE boss Vince McMahon and Alpha Entertainment. The WWE also owned 23.5% of the company’s stock. However, with some 1,000 to 5,000 creditors owed between $10 million and $50 million by the XFL, there are a lot of bills to pay. The largest creditor is the St. Louis agency that operates the city’s Dome at America’s Center, which had a three-year lease for the St. Louis BattleHawks. It was listed as being owed $1.6 million. Seven of the league’s eight coaches also are among the top creditors. VSiN, which is not a creditor in the bankruptcy, was supportive of the XFL from the beginning because of the league’s sports betting acceptance. “It’s great to see a league like the XFL embrace sports betting as a way to drive fan engagement and interest,” VSiN Founder Brian Musburger said in January. The original XFL was launched in 2001 and lasted just one season. However, some of its innovations surrounding the broadcast, such as a “sky cam” above the playing field, were adopted into NFL broadcasts. Maybe the acceptance of sports betting by the NFL will become another XFL legacy. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.