Sun Devil Stadium to host XFL player showcase as league eyes 2023 return

Actor Dwayne Johnson, second from left, is one of owners of the XFL, which plans to return in 2023. Tempe is one of six cities that will host an XFL showcase this summer. (Photo by Stephen Dunn /Allsport via Getty Images)

PHOENIX – The XFL was five weeks into its revamped season in 2020 when the ride came to a screeching halt. The spring professional American football league, which had returned 19 years after its inaugural season in 2001, was shut down again.

Now, under the new ownership of Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia, the league is set to make a second return in February. One step in the preseason process will take place July 22 at Sun Devil Stadium.

Tempe is one of six cities to host an XFL showcase this summer. The purpose of the day-long evaluation is to provide an opportunity for players to try out and hope to be invited to the draft pool of players for the league.

“I think people looked at the short tenure of (the XFL in 2020) and said, ‘Oh, this could work,’” former XFL commissioner Oliver Luck said. “It’s really all about the quality of the game and if you have the type of players that play exciting football, because that’s what fans like. I think people just love watching football. It’s really become our national pastime.”

Spring football leagues have been a trial-and-error operation. The unique aspect about these leagues is the space they have to experiment with different rules in order to capture an audience. The XFL specialized in innovation on and off the field, from allowing double-forward passes to having Xbox controllers in the instant replay booth.

Sun Devil Stadium is no stranger to the spring football landscape. In 2019, the Arizona Hotshots were one of the eight teams in the Alliance of American Football (AAF). The Hotshots, named in tribute to the Granite Mountain Hotshots, played their home games at the stadium before league ceased operations on April 17 of that year.

“I’ve always thought that the biggest challenge of all the various spring leagues has been to create an almost immediate bond (between fans and teams), because sports is about emotion,” Luck said. “I think when most people watch a sporting event, they’re rooting for this player, or that player or this team or that team. That’s difficult to do when the team is brand new.”

The XFL so far has announced the coaching staffs, but not the home markets for their eight teams, meaning Arizona potentially could host another spring league team.

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“I think that Phoenix would be as good as really any other city. It’s a good market,” Luck said. “You’ve got a lot of high-level sports teams per capita. I think it’s sort of the busiest, if you will, sports market compared to some of the other cities around the country.”

Luck also mentioned that the weather in the Valley often is ideal during the in-season months for spring football, and that could play a role as well.

The XFL has showcases planned at the University of Maryland, Jackson State in Mississippi and IMG Academy in Florida. The league also traveled to Johnson’s home state of Hawaii.

“The XFL is all about being at the intersection of dreams and opportunity,” Johnson – who played college football and in the Canadian Football League – said in a news release. “It is our goal to make football more accessible to more players, and our highly experienced team of coaches and personnel directors are ready to help make these professional football dreams come true.”

Registration on the XFL website is sold out for the remaining showcases in Arizona and Texas. There is a Google form to join the waitlist on the league’s official website.

Ricky Weipz Ric-ky Weeps
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Ricky Weipz expects to graduate in December 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Weipz also works as the director of social media for Rising Coaches.