After just 52 days in existence and more than $100 million spent, the Alliance of American Football (AAF) announced it would cease operations on Tuesday.
The decision was made by chairman Tom Dundon, who stepped in to rescue the league after Week 1, feverishly spending about $10 million per week to keep the AAF afloat but soon realizing that his pockets weren’t deep enough to save the startup. Dundon, who also owns the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, was unable to sustain the minor league along with co-founders Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian. While the AAF is not yet technically “dead,” a plot has been reserved for the league right next to the USFL, XFL 1.0 and UFL.
However, the league still has a chance to have a legacy. Much has been made of the AAF application (“app”), which Ebersol dubbed as “Stats 2.0.” With legalized sports gambling on the horizon and “in-play” wagering seen as the next big coup, MGM was quick to invest in the app. To make it work, the AAF outfitted its players with wearables that could transmit data in real-time. The league’s proprietary software helped create instant odds on whether the next play would be run or pass, the direction of the play, and whether the play would result in a first down or touchdown. At full capacity, users would be awarded points and could advance levels, based on their predictions.
Unfortunately, time ran out on the league and the application. However, it seems inevitable that the collision of football and interactive online participation is a matter of when, not if. Here are a few questions regarding the direction of such technology and the answers, as best we can ascertain.
So what of the app?: Ebersol has previously stated that various investors had bought into the technology, so who actually owns the innovative app still remains somewhat of a mystery publicly. However, the technology behind it is sure to live on and could lead to some very lucrative licensing rights. “You’re talking about tens of millions in points of data that we’ve figured out how to compress and deliver it in real time,” Ebersol said in an interview with USA TODAY earlier this year. “So any industry that needs to take that level of data and then compress it and deliver it instantly can use that application. Obviously, the application out of the gate is the gambling platform, but we’re doing it for a variety of other partners.”
How long until a viable league offers similar technology?: Other startup leagues, from Your Call Football to the Fan Controlled Football League, have tried similar ventures to minimal success. However, the amount of money the NFL could pour into such a venture dwarfs anything an alternative league could do. As the hunger for new ways to enjoy football grows, it’s just a matter of time until the big boy on the football block gives it a shot.
Will the XFL attempt to pick up the tech baton?: Vince McMahon’s league has gone so far as to set up a Reimagination Committee designed to bring innovations to the game, and it’s got some pretty high-powered members (with Doug Flutie, John Fox and Jim Caldwell among them), but they’re more geared toward speeding up the game and making it more efficient. One source told us the XFL won’t put the cart before the horse when it comes to introducing technological advances. “At some point we will (have an app),” we were told, “but we will only launch it when it is right.”
Still interested in the end of the AAF and what it means, especially to people who work in the game? Check out today’s Friday Wrap, in which we talk to several scouts and administrators who got pink slips this week. What did they think about the league, their co-workers, and management? Would they do it all again?
As always, the Friday Wrap is free, and you can register for it here. Join the thousands of members of the football business community who read it regularly. Check out last week’s edition here.