Feb 14, 2019

Why the Alliance of American Football is focusing on data

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The Alliance of American Football made its debut this past weekend and produced some very solid ratings. But we're not here to talk about ratings — we're here to talk about the business model.

Why it matters: The AAF is not a football league; it's a tech company. Does it sound a little corny to say that? Yes, but I promise I'm not just reading from some Fyre Festival-esque pitch deck— it's the truth.

  • With sports betting now legal and expanding in the U.S., the AAF has embraced its opportune launch time, investing heavily in technology that it hopes to eventually license out to other leagues and businesses (casinos, media companies).
  • Thanks to chips implanted in the ball and players' shoulder pads, fans have access to real-time visualization and can do things like predict the next play to win points. This interactive experience is clearly where sports are headed, so the AAF is leaning all the way in.

Why the ratings don't matter: Americans love football and shiny new toys. So it's not at all shocking that 2.1 million people tuned in to see what the AAF is all about.

  • The challenge is sustaining that interest; and that's where things could get tricky, as games will be moving away from CBS (and a primetime slot) to CBS Sports Network and niche streaming services.
  • If ratings remain high moving forward, then by all means, let's talk about the AAF's overnight Nielsen ratings until we're blue in the face. But for now, it's just not very interesting or even all that telling.

The big picture: Sports leagues have traditionally made money by selling a product: sports. But thanks to advancements in technology and changes in media consumption, new revenue streams have presented themselves.

  • Consider Major League Baseball: In 2000, the league launched MLB Advanced Media as a way to livestream its games to fans.
  • The infrastructure they built was so darn good that they began powering the streaming efforts of other leagues like the NHL and PGA Tour and even media companies like ESPN and HBO, bringing in hundreds of millions in revenue.
  • Eventually, MLB Advanced Media spun out its technology into a separate company called BAMTech, which Disney has since acquired for billions of dollars.

The bottom line: The AAF's plan is to do what MLB Advanced Media did, but with data (which is hot now) instead of streaming technology (which was hot then).

  • Ultimately, the on-field product still matters a great deal, and it's what we'll all be discussing week-to-week. But now you know that, underneath all the touchdowns and sacks, a lucrative data business is being built.

Go deeper: Trump says he'd have a "hard time" if his son Barron played football

Go deeper

The new oil-cutting pact will help the market but hardly rescue it

The new OPEC-Russia agreement to steeply cut production should help the oil market avoid a complete meltdown, but it's nowhere near enough to undo the damage from the COVID-19 pandemic, analysts say.

Why it matters: It's the first major coordinated response to the pandemic that's creating an unprecedented collapse in global oil demand and has pushed prices to very low levels.

Premier League players launch fund to help U.K. medical workers

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Premier League players have launched an initiative called #PlayersTogether, which will funnel part of their salaries to the National Health Service to support the U.K.'s front-line workers during the coronavirus crisis.

Why it matters: This decision came at the conclusion of a protracted argument between players, clubs and even government officials over who should bear the brunt of lost revenue in the midst of the pandemic.

Go deeperArrow54 mins ago - Sports

GOP worries Trump has only weeks to sharpen coronavirus response

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Republicans are increasingly concerned not only about President Trump’s daily briefings but also his broader plan to ease the nation out of the virus crisis and back to work. This concern is acute — and spreading. 

Why it matters: Trump can easily address the briefing worries by doing fewer, but the lackluster bounce-back planning is what worries Republicans most.