Q+A: Dwayne Johnson talks to GQ about the Success of his First Season Running the XFL League

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on His First Season Running the XFL

Chatting with XFL co-owners Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia about their first year with the upstart football league, building a culture, and the joys of beer snake.

The American appetite for football is effectively infinite—over 300,000 fans just turned out for the draft.

This is the bet that cross-category megastar Dwayne Johnson—also known as The Rock—made alongside his long-time business partner Dany Garcia when they acquired the bankrupt XFL in 2020. Even though spring pro football leagues like the AAF (and Vince McMahon’s initial iteration of the XFL) have failed, the Rock’s value proposition is exactly what you’d expect: he’s going to take the lessons he’s learned from pro wrestling, a massively successful film career as well as his own failed pro football career and funnel it all into a new, fan-forward football league. Alongside Garcia, who has deftly managed the visibility of the growing league, it would appear that they have a fighting chance at making their XFL stick in the wide-open sports landscape. Do you smell what the Rock is…building?!”

In advance of Saturday night’s XFL Championship Game, where the underdog Arlington Renegades stunned the heavily favored DC Defenders, I spoke with Johnson and Garcia about cultivating a fan atmosphere from scratch, their biggest surprises from year one of their XFL stewardship—and, yup, beer snake.

GQ: You both have a long history of successful projects as partners. You have to have seen it all. What was the most surprising thing about your first full season as XFL owners?

Dwyane Johnson: Chairwoman?

Dany Garcia: You go first, please.

DJ: With this kind of thing, you never know how it’s going to work out. So that opening weekend—when we bounced around from city to city, state to state—from the moment we went to that first game, my hope was that the fans were gonna come with energy, that they were excited.

But at the same time, the reality was that this was all new to the fans. These players are new. They’re not big stars. The fans don’t know who they are. This version of the league is new, the teams are new, the colors are new, everything is brand new. You’re coming a week after the Super Bowl. Is there football fatigue? Historically, spring football hasn’t worked out over the years. So I wasn’t sure what we were gonna walk into.

And brother, from that first game…I was at the first game, and I remember sitting on the sidelines going, “Holy shit, this feels like there are 100,000 people here.” And then we ended up in DC for our final opening weekend game on Sunday night, and that place was fucking rocking! Excuse my language. But then that beer snake was going on and I didn’t know what the beer snake was. I quickly found out though.


DG: My greatest joy has been seeing, right from the beginning, the dynamic play.

In January, we watched these teams that had been practicing in camp for six weeks. And when I saw what they were executing, I was like, It’s there. It was right there. And I could see it.

You can look at our stats. We had a 63% completion rate on our passes. Many of our games were decided by less than four points in the end. Our overtime was amazing. To see that come to life, the excitement, the way things the fans were responding…

And then I would also say my great, great joy was just to see social media—the fact that you could go Twitter search “XFL” and see that chatter and the plays and see how activated our fandom and our consumer was. That was beautifully satisfying, because building a league today requires you to go grassroots and have real digital relevance in addition to what you’re seeing on the screen. So I would say those two things were so satisfying to me.

That’s the perfect transition to beer snake. When you hear the words “beer snake,” what immediately comes to mind for you?

DJ: I love it. That’s my immediate reaction. I may or may not have contributed to the DC beer snake when I was first there on my very first outing at Audi Field, which made it a little bit more challenging for me to get up the next morning super early for live interviews. But that’s for another story.

I think that’s for this story.

DJ: That is for this story [laughs]. But I still came through like a champ on Saturday—or, I’m sorry, whatever that next Monday morning was. I don’t remember.

I love the beer snake. For me it says  and that the fans are having a great time at our games. I’ll share this with you. Once we finally bought the league, Dany and I had multiple meetings, and one of the most important things that we talked about was, “What kind of league do we want to create and what kind of experience do we want to create for the fans? How can we make it different? How can we make it unique? How can we make it fun?”

Back when I was playing at University of Miami—Dany was on the crew team back then—we were together and experiencing football at the Orange Bowl…. We had the longest undefeated streak of 10 years there. So that place was rocking. It was like you could take 10 beer snakes and then, I don’t know, a hippopotamus snake, and then you can take a whiskey snake, too.

My editor pitched “Teremana Scorpion.”

DJ: We’re gonna do the Terena Scorpion at the championship game. The beer snake illuminates the fun for the fans.

DG: Last week at the North Division Championship, the beer snake was kicking and one of the best parts was when the two massive recycling garbage cans came and everyone passed that beer snake into those recycling cans. We’re going to have a great time…and then we’re gonna recycle!

Dany, I wanted to ask you about grassroots traditions like the beer snake and how a sports league or team engages with it—when the team and league leans into a fan-made thing, sometimes the energy disappears and the fans are over it. How do you balance that?

DG: When you are looking for magic events, you don’t make the magic. You have to create an environment and say, “Hey, whatever happens, we’re supportive.” We want the fandom to express themselves.

So are you in an environment where you can do that? Is the game great? Is the environment great? Do you have things you need? And all of a sudden you sit back and plant the seeds and then once they happen, you celebrate.

You’ve historically worked so closely on all of your projects—the movies, wrestling, all of the series and productions in development. You also were married.

DG: We were married.

I said were!

DG: I’m gonna just say a few things. DJ, please jump in…

DJ: I learned that lesson a long time ago.

DG: We laugh because everything we’ve done to date has led us exactly to the XFL. There is not one company in our portfolios that we don’t look back and say, “Yes, that’s here, that applies.”

First of all, wrestling, always. Secondly, our major four-quadrant movies, the fact that we talk to four quadrant audiences—that we do big budget films where we say, “Have a great time, come and we’re going to honor the fact that you’re spending $14, $15, $20.” The discipline that we are an audience-first producing entity is huge to transfer. So live events, we go back to Rock the Troops that we did in Hawaii, and DJ, what did we have—70,000 troops there who came to see you sing live?

DJ: I’m not saying they left happy, but I did sing, yes.

We’re a live entertainment company with an emphasis on the game that we love, which is football, an emphasis on the game that we essentially failed at. It didn’t happen for us. So to come back years later full circle and create this entity, create a modern spring football culture here and create a culture for these players and for the coaches and for the fans is a big deal to us.

I’ll add to what Danny was saying about four quadrant movies .Anytime you look to build anything out, it takes time. We play the long game. We’ve always played the long game. Everything we’ve done has led us here. However, there is nothing in our experience portfolio in our soul that is like the XFL, and this is why it’s so special to Dany and me.

Season four—your second season at the helm of the XFL—is in the works. What can you tell me about it?

DG: I’m sorry I can’t give you even anything juicier, but I do wanna philosophically share this with you. One of the things that we were so excited about with the XFL is that this create greatness and opportunity year after year. We’ve had 43 players who have gotten offers for the NFL today, and that’s going to increase dramatically after the championship. That celebration is what we’re looking to do every year, and that happens because of the quality of athlete out there. And every year there’s another batch. We wanna be greatness makers. We’re in the business of opportunity, and making the XFL the place to play football. So I’m excited about developing that.

DJ: Hashtag #GreatnessMakers right there. That’s a good one. I’m gonna remember that one.

One of the things that I’m most excited about next season is, I literally just wrote it down as Dany was talking, but it’s watching our XFL cities create their own identity and culture. Like DC, like St. Louis, some of these markets like Seattle, Orlando, San Antonio. Who knows, coming out of the championship game, what kind of culture is going to be created down in Arlington? I’m excited about that, man, because we’re sports lovers. We’re football lovers.

I love the beer snake. I want to create the Teremana Snake. But it always comes down to the fan experience and what those fans can create.

I started wrestling in flea markets before I got to the WWE. Even in front of 50 people, it was all about sending them home happy. And it’s the exact same thing with the XFL. So I’m excited about 2024 now that fans feel more confident that over this, they got something here. 

Bank on it, dude. They can bank on it. We like to say that you watch football, but hopefully fans are gonna feel like they experience an XFL game. So that’s what I’m excited about, man, for 2024.

Source: GQ [This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.]

Please follow and like us:
Social Share Buttons and Icons powered by Ultimatelysocial