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AAF’s failure doesn’t mean alt football won’t work

The AAF was doomed from the start when the league started without enough money to cover more than one week of their operation costs.

Over the past decade, we have seen a number of new outdoor football leagues fail. But none that actually started failed worse than the Alliance of American Football, AAF. After eight weeks of their 10-week regular season, the AAF announced it was suspending football operations, a nice way of saying “we’re done.” This really should not come as a surprise, not even to a group of die-hard AAF fans I know who chatted about it constantly.

There is a thirst for an alternative outdoor football league, and for many, the AAF’s failure says that spring football will never work. To me, the AAF’s failure does not say it does not work, it says dumb billionaires who have no clue what they are doing running a football league will ever get it right.

After just their first week it was reported the AAF would have been bankrupt had a big investor not bought in to allow them the ability to cover payroll for week two. The ultimate collapse for the AAF was an inability to meet that payroll due to severely over-estimated gates. (A slight tangent but making the entire thing even worse – the moment the league shut down they told their players and staff, whom they sometimes couldn’t pay, that they immediately had to leave the houses they had been staying in and had to find their own way home because the AAF stopped paying the bills.)

I have a basic question that highlights the utter incompetence of those running the AAF: If you have a set number of teams (8), a set number of players per team (52) and a set salary for every player ($70,000), how could you not have enough money to cover one season? Yes, I’m not counting the other coaches and staff salaries, but these numbers have to be known before the season starts. The league was relying on a severely over-estimated gate adding to the league’s revenue and other investors coming in during the season. That shows the total incompetence of the league, not a lack of desire for spring football.

That week 2 investor was Thomas Dundon, the owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes. Dundon bought in for $250 million with the agreement that he would be named the new chairman of the league. Dundon only bought in with the intention of having the NFL and NFLPA aligning with the AAF to make it a “complementary developmental league for the NFL.” He even tried to threaten the NFL that if they did not agree then he would shut the league down.

I’m not sure trying to strong arm the NFL into anything by threatening your own demise is a strategy that would ever work.

Dundon made things worse for the AAF, but only after others in charge – Charlie Ebersol and Keith Rabois – egregiously decided to start up a league with nowhere near enough money in the bank.

So the league is dead, but the quest for a spring football league still survives. Next year, Vince McMahon will be taking a second crack at the XFL. I’m not saying the XFL 2 will succeed, but I will say it has a much, much better chance to succeed more than the original XFL and much more than the AAF.

Vince McMahon will take a second shot at his dream of a spring football league. Has he learned from the mistakes made during the first try?

Personally, I think McMahon was a genius letting the AAF go in 2019 while he set a 2020 start date. This way, he could see all the good innovations the AAF did and he could adopt them for his league a year later. Plus, he can see what fans loved and what fans hated about the AAF so he could avoid the dangers. McMahon’s first run with the XFL did not go well, but that also gave him a great inside look at what makes a football league fail. After nearly two decades of going over everything that did not work, I’m going to assume he learned a thing or two.

Plus, McMahon does not have a television contract yet, but you can bet he will have one home for the XFL. One of the biggest issues with the AAF was the games bounced around different channels and it was hard to know where it would be on as just a casual fan. A set channel, a set day of the week, a set time was something the original XFL did hit on, there were just so many other operational problems.

The XFL is also going after much bigger markets where it is more likely he can capture a fan base. This certainly does not guarantee those fans in those markets will support the XFL as it means they also have more competition from other established pro teams for eyes, but Arizona (Tempe not Phoenix), Memphis and Salt Lake City certainly did not pull their weight bringing fans into the stadium for the AAF. The XFL will be in Dallas, Houston, New York, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. Immediately looking at it, only LA, which doesn’t even support both of their NFL teams, seems like a sketchy place to have a team.

Odds are against the XFL 2 working, but I don’t think the reason it would fail will be because there aren’t enough people who want to see football being played in the spring, it would be, like all these failed leagues, because of poor management.

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Corey Johns

Editor in Chief
You could say Corey was born to become a sports journalist. His father won a national championship coaching college soccer. His mother is a baseball fanatic who hasn't missed seeing an Orioles game since 1983 (literally, sometimes it's annoying). His great uncle was a big-time boxing promoter and his maternal grandfather was once a department head at the Baltimore Sun. Basically, sports and journalism run through his blood. He played just about every little league sports there was when he was a kid and was a multi-sport athlete in high school; even playing in the first-ever high school sanction Rugby game in the country. Eventually he retired from sports as an undefeated Maryland state Rugby champion as a high school senior. Perhaps lack of athletic talent has more to do with the retirement, but he will tell you that it more had to do with a great desire to jump right into media. Upon his graduation from University of Maryland, Baltimore County as a triple communications major, Corey started the So Much Sports network and has continued to grow his websites and continues to work to make them premier sports media outlets.

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