If you’re like me, and you follow the business of the game very closely, you have to be impressed with the direction the Alliance of American Football (AAF) is going. Though I’m probably the biggest pessimist in the world when it comes to alternative football leagues, it’s hard not to like what they’ve done so far.
Yes, they’ve been able to capitalize on the absence of NFL games as they’ve grabbed headlines the last 3-4 months’, and yes, they’re capitalizing on a curiosity among football fans that won’t really be sated until the AAF plays its first games. At the same time, there are several things they’ve done right.
Here are the top five things the league has done to give itself a fighting chance of sustainability.
Good timing: It’s unclear how early the organizers of the AAF knew about the XFL’s 2020 launch, which was officially announced in January of this year, but hinted at last fall. However, it’s impossible to overstate what an advantage the league got by jumping into the pool first. Not only have they populated their teams’ front offices with credible names and credible people, but they’ll be able to scoop up the remnants of the ’18 and maybe ’19 draft classes without competition.
TV deal: The league’s deal with CBS sounds shiny and impressive, but what it all boils down to, mainly, is the Arena Football League’s old deal, with a Game of the Week on the CBS Sports Network, plus two other games — the league’s debut game and its championship — on the big network. It’s not like major networks haven’t broadcast summer football before, and they’ve never really gained traction. All of that said, a TV deal still equals legitimacy.
Good hires: Just about every former NFL executive with any relevance has been hired by the AAF. The same can be said for the AAF’s head coaches. Critics say there’s a reason these guys aren’t in the league anymore. Maybe so, but the bottom line is that these men know how to run teams and, maybe more importantly, have relationships with the agents and media who are a big part of a league’s success. This also gets them an audience with current NFL scouts and executives when they have questions about players.
Plentiful resources: The league’s organizers were smart enough to know they needed stacks of cash before they fired their first shot, so to speak. It looks like they were able to do that.
Building up front first: One scout who’s been hired by the AAF reached out to me a couple weeks ago for help aggregating the names of as many available offensive lineman as possible. Though he still hasn’t been hired in an official capacity, his soon-to-be boss is already sensitive to the scarcity of offensive linemen across the game, and is taking steps to find the best ones. That’s brilliant. Though fans fixate on the touchdown-scorers, none of it is possible if you don’t have the big guys up front. Check out the AAF’s Twitter feed and you’ll see that many of their signings include offensive and defensive linemen. Wise moves.
So the AAF has quite a few first downs under its belt and maybe even a few touchdowns. Does that mean that its alternative league rival, the XFL, is dead in the water? Not at all. Vince McMahon, Oliver Luck and the league’s organizers can still blunt the AAF’s momentum with a few simple steps.
We’ll go over a few moves the XFL would be smart to make in today’s Friday Wrap. We’re also conducting a survey on the cover design of our new book, and we’ll have a wrap-up of the week in football — on the business side — in today’s edition. Here’s a look at last week’s Wrap. Want to sign up for the Wrap? It’s free, and thousands of football professionals read it each week. It comes out tonight around 7:30 p.m. ET. Register here.