Are you ready for some football?
By Drew Farmer
Are you ready for some football? The Alliance of American Football is here!
The Canadian Football League and NCAA seasons have been put to bed. Meanwhile, Super Bowl LIII will kick off Sunday, February 3rd, but that doesn’t mean gridiron football is finished this winter.
Just when the football season looks over, fans of the gridiron game are about to have something new to cheer.
For the first time since WWE owner Vince McMahon debuted the XFL in 2001 – its lone season – an NFL rival professional football league will take to the field. The Alliance of American Football will kick off its first season one week after the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots clash at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia for Super Bowl LIII.
What is the Alliance of American Football?
In the wake of Colin Kaepernick, kneeling during the American National Anthem, head injuries, and inconsistent television ratings, the AAF announced its intentions to the world on March 20, 2018. While much of the world yawned with indifference, ears in the United States perked up.
With just a matter of weeks until the AAF kicks off with eight teams spread across the western and southern states of the country, anticipation is slowly growing. Many pundits and football fans are anxious to see if the AAF will be as much of a train wreck as the original XFL. Oh, by the way, the XFL will return after a 19-year hiatus in 2020.
The 10-game AAF season will air on national television in the US courtesy of CBS and its streaming app platform. The eight teams will play a 10-game season with the top two sides from each conference making the playoffs.
AAF teams and cities breakdown:
- Atlanta Legends
- Birmingham Iron
- Memphis Express
- Orlando Apollos
- Arizona Hotshots
- Salt Lake Stallions
- San Antonio Commanders
- San Diego Fleet
Co-founder Charlie Ebersol is the son of Dick Ebersol, the mastermind behind much of NBC’s sports success in the 1980s and 1990s. Ebersol’s father was also a co-founder of the XFL, which lost NBC $35m on a $100m investment in the start-up. Fellow co-founder Bill Polian is a former NFL executive and they have been joined by several ex-football players to start the league.
Why was the Alliance of American Football formed?
Compared to the XFL who wanted to compete with the NFL for football superiority in the early part of the century, the AAF has other objectives. According to league officials, it merely wants to complement the NFL, give fans football to watch in the spring, and to expose and develop new talent.
However, the biggest problem with adding a spring football league is fans are already tapped out from five months of intense collegiate and professional action. One of the biggest draws of the NFL is its short, swift seasons unlike the NHL, Major League Baseball, or NBA. So, will football fans care about spring gridiron?
How is the Alliance of American Football different to the NFL?
The AAF will have some rule tweaks to attract fans. It will also take new steps toward player safety, according to league executive and former Pittsburgh Steelers player Hines Ward.
Fans will need to get used to the slightly different rules, but if they are successful, the NFL may adopt them. One major rule change will be the absence of television timeouts and 60 percent fewer TV commercials. With NFL games exceeding more than three hours and two of which being classed as “downtime”, the AAF is making faster games a priority. One step to hasten games is to have a shorter play clock. Perhaps America’s new-found interest in soccer and its speedy games has helped influence the AAF’s steps toward faster games.
Other rule tweaks include no extra-points as teams must try a two-point conversion and there are no kick offs. The latter is a rule change that looks focused on safety. Rumors have claimed the NFL has tossed around the idea of eliminating kick offs as a way to prevent concussions from occurring.
Will the Alliance of American Football succeed?
No professional football league has succeeded outside of the NFL and AFL. The United States Football League famously played in the spring and summer months but ceased operations in 1986 after just three years. The XFL also found it difficult to rouse fans with a poor on-field product.
While there is the possibility football fans could grow excited for a new spring gridiron league, it is difficult to believe one can take off. Financial instability and in-fighting have hurt organizations previously.
The AAF does have a television deal, which is far better than the one the XFL had in 2001. In addition, technological advances in the last 18 years means people can watch games online or through the CBS app on the go.
The AAF also has set rules and a structure the XFL didn’t. XFL executives were famously still coming up with game rules on the way to the first league game in 2001. And unlike the XFL, the AAF doesn’t have legitimacy issues hanging over them thanks to being co-owned by the WWE.