Just eight weeks into the season, AAF falls apart,leaving many jobless
The Santa Clara
April 11, 2019
Roger Goodell strode into his office on the morning of April 3 with a confidence he hadn’t felt in a while, shooting finger guns to the rest of the NFL employees in his office. He picked up the daily newspaper sitting on the conference table—already open to the sports section, of course—and grabbed a shiny red apple as he made his way to his corner office.
Swinging open the door and looking smug, Goodell made his way to his chair and sat down, put his feet up on his desk and read the headline on the front page of the paper: “Alliance of American Football Folds After Eight Weeks.”
“It was only a matter of time,” he mumbled to himself.
He began to chuckle, took a big, crisp bite of his apple and with a full mouth demanded, “Alexa, play ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ by Queen!”
Okay, okay, of course that didn’t actually happen. While I like to think that this was how Goodell came into the office the morning after the Alliance of American Football (AAF) announced it was suspending all football operations, there isn’t any truth to this short anecdote.
Yet, one thing is for sure: the AAF is finished and the NFL is king.
If you’re a consistent reader of the sports section, you may remember my article from week six of winter quarter in which I described—and criticized—what was at the time, a brand-new professional spring football league in the AAF.
If you don’t remember, the gist was that the AAF was co-founded by Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Polian and TV and film producer Charlie Ebersol, backed by some pretty strong investors (including MGM and a number from Silicon Valley), packed with former NFL executives, general managers, coaches and players, given a TV contract with CBS Sports and meant to serve almost like a minor league system for the NFL.
However, after what looked to the public to be a fairly strong opening week plus seven more weeks of regular season play, Tom Dundon— who became league owner after the second week of the season—decided to suspend all operations.
In total, this left the stint of the AAF with only eight weeks of games, less than one full season. All the uproar and promise that many placed on the new league’s shoulders came to an unexpected halt at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 2.
According to reports, Polian and Ebersol had differing views from Dundon about the future of the league.
“I am extremely disappointed to learn Tom Dundon has decided to suspend all football operations of the Alliance of American Football,” Polian said in a statement last Tuesday. “When Mr. Dundon took over, it was the belief of my co-founder, Charlie Ebersol, and myself that we would finish the season, pay our creditors and make the necessary adjustments to move forward in a manner that made economic sense for all.”
Instead, the league shut down suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving almost everyone involved without jobs and without pay.
Reports immediately surfaced of players who were forced to pay for their own flights home, cover expensive hotel bills that were the league’s responsibility and injured players who, without health insurance, were forced to cover medical expenses for the rest of their recovery.
However, to the league and its officials’ credit, some of these situations, such as the transportation issues, were covered in contracts before the start of the league.
Other circumstances, such as the hotel bills, were proven to be mistakes and, according to league information, players who have been incorrectly charged for expenses that should have been covered by the league are eligible for reimbursement by April 15.
Of course, players are only one group of many—including coaches, general managers, support staff and vendors—who were also negatively affected in numerous different ways by this sudden shutdown.
An official statement describing the reason behind the AAF’s cancellation has yet to be announced by the league or any of its top officials. However, based on what is known about the league’s funding and investors, all evidence points to the fact that money ran out before they were able to complete a full season.
According to reports on NBC Sports, it seems as though the AAF failed to raise enough money from the start and decided to start the season anyways, betting that once the league got exposure and investors saw the product, more money would come in mid-season. Evidently, the gamble did not pay off and the league seemed financially doomed from its second week.
Speaking of gambling, one of the biggest rumors and speculations yet to be confirmed has to do with the patented gambling software the league built into its app.
The technology may have been the most valuable asset the AAF had up its sleeve—especially now that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed more states the opportunity to legalize sports betting.
Once again, while nothing has been confirmed at this point, some believe that Dundon’s interest in the AAF was only to secure the technology behind the gambling app.
Although the abrupt end to the AAF leaves many with hardships and a difficult couple of months ahead, it only further cements the NFL as the top dog of sports entertainment.
As one who clearly never got the lesson that history repeats itself, Vince McMahon, majority owner, chairman and CEO of WWE, is planning to restart the XFL—another professional football league—in February of 2020.
Despite the XFL only lasting one season in 2001 as a joint venture between WWF (now WWE) and NBC and directed by McMahon and Dick Ebersol (yes, the same guy who cofounded the AAF), McMahon believes he can do what no other American professional football league has been able to do: survive.
Let them all try, but if this trend is to continue, there will never be another prominent professional football league as long as the NFL is around.
The AAF is just the latest to fall.
Contact Kyle Lydon at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.