Every February we all cry poor as the NBA and NHL drag on, the interminable college basketball schedule continues, and pitchers and catchers finally report. Well, your poverty ends on February 9th as the Alliance of American Football (AAF) kicks off its inaugural season.
To be direct, your guess might be as good as mine, but I am going to attempt to look at history and current trends and divine what will happen and how you can profit from it. Let’s start with a brief history lesson and see what we can glean from that.
Will History Repeat Itself?
In the ‘60s an upstart league called the American Football League took on the NFL. By 1969, the New York Jets had beaten the unbeatable Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. From there, it was just a formality for the leagues to merge into today’s National Football League. Times changed and when the USFL tried to take on the NFL in the ‘80s, they last just three seasons — even with some big names like Steve Young, Jim Kelly and Hershel Walker in the league. In fact Donald Trump owned the New Jersey Generals. Eventually, the ratings weren’t there to support the spending and the league folded.
Innovation is the edge the AAF is counting on, in as much as any football league can be innovative. To start, they are headed by Chuck Ebersol (son of retired NBC sports boss, Dick Ebersol) and Bill Polian of Indianapolis Colts fame. They include big named former NFLers like Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward and Justin Tuck on their management team and look to be very forward thinking on their approach to fantasy and fan interaction.
The AFF’s Structure and Rules
So, let’s start with a brief overview of the league structure and aspirations. At the outset, the league is different than previous models because it is centrally owned. Yes, so was the XFL, but we all know that was a WWE-special and not necessarily relevant to this go-around. However, it does mean the league is less susceptible to the fate of the USFL and running out of money.
To ensure the quality of play, the eight-team league is hiring demonstrably successful former NFL and NCAA coaches to lead its teams. Names like Steve Spurrier and Mike Martz populate the coaching roster. Their winter schedule is played exclusively below the Mason-Dixon Line and the stadiums hold an average of 55k fans. These two points ensure that cold weather is never a factor and smaller stadiums look more populated with fewer fans.
The rules are also a little different and look to create more real action and fewer high impact contact plays. For example, there is not 1-point conversion for a point after attempt (PAT). All teams must go for two after any touchdown. Also, there are no kick-offs and after a score the team that would have received a kick is automatically placed on the 25 yard line — the same as a touchback in the NFL or NCAA. Add to those rules, a 30 second (it’s 40 in the NFL) play clock will keep the action moving, creating more plays and increasing the pace of the game.
One other quirk is that players can void their contracts if they are picked up by an NFL squad. This will create an interesting relationship between the NFL and the AAF, which is less contentious than previous leagues have enjoyed. Instead of competing for players, the NFL sees the AAF as a proving ground for players and a terrific chance to watch as a player develops before adding them to a roster.
How Do I Provide the AAF for Guests to View?
All this begs the question, how do I show these games to my customers? CBS will show the inaugural game on February 9th between Atlanta and Orlando. After that CBSSN (DTV 221) will show one game weekly and the remainder will be on live streaming. The streams will be available on the AAF.com website. TNT is also showing one regular season game and one playoff game. Speaking of playoffs, four of the eight teams make the post-season which includes a league semifinals and championship game. All the playoff games are televised on TNT, CBS and CBSSN.
As further proof, the NFL is not afraid of the AAF, and vice versa, the NFL Network will also air games from the nascent league. In fact 19 of the leagues games will appear on the eponymous football network. The NFL seems to be embracing its newest challenger as a way to mitigate the competition. That might be the most forward thinking thing the league has done in ages.
All this means, if you want to make a meaningful commitment to the AAF, you will have to facilitate streaming sports in your restaurant. Yes, you’ve heard this song before, but maybe now is the time for you to actually listen to the lyrics. By providing a facility for guests to watch streaming sports, you are both differentiating yourself from your competition, but you are also providing your guests what they want, when they want it.
The AAF is going to be a novelty league at the start, at least. It’ll pique the interest of some football fans but not enough to probably get them buy a streaming package they don’t already own. Here’s where your sports bar can fill in the niche. And given the recent slide happening to the NFL’s in-line broadcasts, it just makes sense to leverage streams as an alternative. By embracing the AAF’s streaming games, you make sure you can show other events that are stream only as well.
Will It Work Out for the AAF?
One of the claims that Hines Ward made to differentiate the AAF from the NFL, is that it’s doesn’t try to be different than the NFL. If you are scratching your head, we are too. What Ward is trying to articulate is that other competitive leagues tried to be different from the NFL and that was their downfall. By mostly adopting the NFL game and team management structure, and relying on former NFL coaches and players to direct the league, the AAF is asserting that the game will look and feel the same as the NFL. It will just be played during a different season.
If they are right and folks are so hungry for an NFL-lite, then it should be fun for sports-themed operators to have another great football league to feature. The burning question is whether fans will be fatigued from a seven month NFL season and not adopt the AAF as the natural transition from the end of the NFL’s campaign?
The exclusive hope for the AAF is that they don’t become an NFL competitor, but instead work hand-in-hand as a junior partner in providing a solid football product, developing players, and as a laboratory of new ideas the NFL can potentially co-opt. IMHO, the only real outcome for the AAF will be a long term partnership with the NFL or to get bought by them outright.
Either way, we encourage you to embrace the league. It won’t cost you anything and gives you valuable content during a relatively quiet time on the sports calendar. No matter the outcome, this should be an interesting story to see unfold. We suggest you be a part of it rather than observing and give you guests more football.