Only eight weeks after the Alliance of American Football began its inaugural season, it has suspended operations. Smoke has been emanating from the AAF when controlling owner Tom Dundon touted drastic actions may be afoot.
The league has not officially folded, but it may be inevitable if the league is not successful working out a deal with the NFL Players Association over the use of the NFL practice players on AAF teams. There is no doubt the AAF is better using players that have NFL experience, or have been working with NFL teams, but even if the NFLPA was willing to approve and re-write provisions allowing practice squad players, it would likely be another two years before it would happen because of the existing collective bargaining agreement. Not to mention that it would take time to overcome the NFL bureaucracy to get official blessings.
I think most football fans are disappointed to see it go. There are plenty of fans that like all sports and can be pacified with almost any pro league game. However, most fans have a passion for one sport more than they do another, and often it is football.
The AAF league’s season really fit into the perfect window. The Super Bowl was in the rear-view window in mid-February, but plenty of folks still had a “jones” for more football. The NFL could not offer much until the amateur draft in late April. And voila, here is a pro football league that provided decent football in that 3-month window. Square peg, meet square hole.
The AAF was set up not to compete with the NFL for players, or eyeballs during the fall season, or even persuade fans in NFL cities to switch alliances, but to offer another way for fans to watch their favorite sport and for players to prove they should be considered for the big stage.
Teams had a regional flavor picking up players that were originally from the area or had played their college ball near-by. It helped create an instant connection for many fans. Plus, many supporters liked having a home team to call their own.
The league also had TV exposure going for it. Often with fledgling leagues, it is hard to get carriage on traditional over-the-air or high-profile networks. The AAF had CBS and Turner Sports in their corner from the beginning, and it helped bring early notoriety to the league. The AAF in turn brought ratings. Some eye-popping ones in the beginning averaging 2.9 Million viewers and beating some NBA and NHL broadcasts. Granted it level-offed to viewership in the half-a-million range, but still respectable.
However, like many things in life, it all about money. Problems usually arise when there is not enough to go around or some party thinks they deserve more, and in this case it is no different.
So where does it go from here? Good question. Most were surprised with Tom Dundon’s draconian move since negotiations appeared to be going well with the NFLPA. Maybe he is just playing hard ball to extract the best deal, or he jumped in without doing his full due diligence. Either way, fans and players would like to see it bounce back. Like many, we were still just getting to know you, AAF.