It doesn’t make sense that anyone would branch out and begin their own sports league. But in the annals of sports, a lot of wealthy and not-so-wealthy have tried and failed.
Now according to sportswriter David Glenn of “The Athletic”, the AAF is in dire straits financially. And the biggest buzz about that is it is only going into Week Three of its maiden year. The problem surfaced, actually, in Week One when player checks weren’t deposited on time. The league claimed the error was part of a new administrator issue. If this league was three years in the making, why would they change administrators before the first week of play was finished?
Each AAF squad is comprised of 50 players who sign a three-year non-guaranteed $250,000 contract (regardless of playing position). Each contract has an opt-out in case any player receives an invite to an NFL or CFL camp. And each club has 12 coaches plus a full front office plus the other positions that comprise a professional outfit.
Players were paid for Week One, but were in danger of not receiving their second weekend money until Tom Dundon, the majority owner of the NHL Carolina Hurricanes, stepped in and contributed $250 million on Tuesday, February 19. It is unclear if any coaches, front office management or any other employees have or have not been paid.
The AAF has claimed from the beginning that they are not a rival league to the NFL nor the CFL. Their entire purpose is to become a developmental entity for players to learn the game better on-the-field, train new coaches and referees in a professional setting, and even front office personnel. The league is also trying new ideas such as the elimination of the kickoff and extra points, as well as an extra official called the “SkyJudge” which can make calls from the booth and even pick up flags from the field referees.
The first week of AAF play was heralded as very successful with over 6 million viewers on CBS and beating out a prime-time NBA contest. But live attendance was at a minimum.
The advantage that this league has that other past pro football leagues didn’t have is that the NFL is behind its very existence. So much, in fact, that two games a week are televised on NFL Network and that the daily “scrawl” on the screen lists AAF games in progress, final scores, and next week’s scheduled contests just like they would their own teams. The NFL realizes that this is a method to develop talent and is a readily accessible pool of talent with game experience. 83% of the AAF rosters have signed an NFL contract at some point, but a good percentage of the 83% has never actually seen an NFL field or had limited active roster time.
Pros and Cons
There are a lot of good things about this league, but there is an equal number of defiant items as well.
Young talent is able to play and learn their chosen position in actual games instead of on a practice squad. Players are allowed to keep their dreams alive of being a professional football player and perhaps one day become an active member of the NFL or CFL. Coaches, such as the Birmingham Iron’s head coach Tim Lewis, can actually run their own team or coach at the pro level. There are several female referees whereas in the NFL there is only one. The Arizona Hotshots have a female coach – WR coach Jennifer King. The football season is no longer a seasonal affair. Cities which have been devoid of pro football but have sought an NFL franchise can now present their case that their city deserves consideration if the league ever does another round of expansion.
The stadium dressings for each AAF team is very impressive as well as the markings on the field. The uniforms are exceptional as well as the new look for the referee garb. All of this is first-rate. And though there have been former NFL clubs long ago that had singular teamnames, there aren’t any today. Three AAF teams have singular designations: Express, Iron and Fleet. Every teamname has something to do with that club’s area or city heritage instead of simply calling themselves an animal name or a moniker that has nothing to do with the area. This is done on purpose to give their fans a sense of regional pride such as the NFL Steelers with their steel manufacturing heritage.
Attendance is not great and in some situations laughable. Cities such as Orlando, Birmingham, San Antonio and Memphis have all had several clubs in other pro football leagues and each one has drawn exceptionally well. But those other leagues were considered NFL-rival leagues so the talent was supposedly better than NFL and CFL waived players. Defensive lines seem to dominant most offensive lines. There are a ton of sacks, hurries, QB hits and knockdowns every game despite a rule that clubs can only rush five players on a single play. While CBS did a great job with its initial telecast, the remainder games are on NFL Network or a sister CBS network to which a lot of fans do not subscribe and simply won’t go to a sports bar in order to watch games. Fans are, however, able to stream games on AAF.com and also the available app.
Field goals outnumber touchdowns. There are a lot of third and longs and the penalty yards will sometime outnumber the rushing yards. Rarely does a QB throw for 300 yards and is usually closer to 200 passing yards. The mandatory two-point try after the TD is stupid. If a viewer tunes in late to a 19-9 score, they will go nuts trying to figure out how the two teams arrived at those numbers. Why is the kicked PAT such an issue? One thing about sports, you don’t mess with the way it is scored and confuse the viewer.
Other Failed Leagues
The World Football League lasted 1 ½ seasons. The XFL was here for a single season along with the Regional Spring Football League. The USFL gave us three years. The UFL and AAFC four years. There were five American Football Leagues of which four lasted two or fewer seasons. Only did the 1960-1969 version last and is a major component of the NFL we watch today. The WLAF/NFL Europe/NFL Europa league was NFL-sanctioned for 14 years.
Indoor pro football leagues have sprouted up and basically merged into each other in order to survive. Only the originator of this concept has survived: the Arena Football League. The Spring League began in 2017 and the second version of the XFL is set to unveil in a spring format in 2020.
The CFL has been around since 1909 but became a unified league from two rival entities beginning in 1958.
And then all of the once-proposed leagues such as the Stars Football League, Fall Experimental Football League, Spring Football League, USFL2 and All American Football League that had made grand plans and even signed some players and coaches but never saw the field.
What’s next for the AAF?
For one, the AAF has announced on its website that Dundon will serve as the chairman of the Alliance Board of Directors effective immediately. Perhaps the crowds will begin to get larger for home games as evidenced by the nearly 30,000 in San Antonio this past weekend who saw their hometown Commanders almost defeat Orlando with a fantastic 37-29 game.
More butts in seats plus a more friendly TV arrangement which will involve a wider audience is needed for the league to have some sort of relevance which, of course, brings in more advertising dollars. A sports league today cannot rely solely on the gate, parking fees and selling programs in order to succeed like in the old days of the NFL. The paltry CBS deal is helpful, but it is not the king’s ransom the NFL gets from its TV partners.
A sports league takes money to operate – a lot of money. And the AAF does not have individual owners the way most leagues are setup. The AAF owns all of the teams and pays all of the employees. So, if the AAF goes down, the entire structure collapses (instead of a single club). The reality of the situation is that more folks are going to have to support these teams in order for it to succeed.
Or it will one day be included into a section entitled, “Other Failed Leagues.”