Apr 3, 2019

The Alliance of American Football has folded, despite the quality football

Kendall Baker, author of Sports

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Less than two months after playing its first games, and with the postseason just two weeks away, the Alliance of American Football (AAF) has suspended all football operations.

Why it matters: The Alliance is the latest in a long line of upstart football leagues that tried and failed to feed Americans a side of football with their football. Its demise will be the subject of much debate in the coming months.

  • Also, a lot of people are out of a job today with bills that need to be paid. Plenty of players dropped everything for this opportunity, and yesterday's news came as a shock.

The backdrop: A quick timeline detailing how this all went down.

  • Feb. 9: The AAF's opening night is widely heralded as a success, with the football producing plenty of highlights and the CBS broadcast drawing favorable ratings (roughly three million viewers).
  • Feb. 18: News breaks that the AAF was on the cusp of not being able to pay its players after Week 2 but was bailed out by Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon, who made a $250 million investment and effectively became the league's majority stakeholder.
  • March 27: Dundon tells USA Today that the AAF could be in danger of folding because it hadn't secured an agreement with the NFL. "If the players union is not going to give us young players, we can't be a development league," he said. "We are looking at our options, one of which is discontinuing the league."
  • Yesterday: AAF folds.

What happened: According to The Action Network's Darren Rovell, AAF founders Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian had a plan to develop the league for three years before becoming a feeder system to the NFL.

  • "Dundon, however, wanted to create a minor league relationship immediately and sought to use the leverage of folding the AAF" to get a deal done. He has also apparently been funding the league on a week-to-week basis, having only committed $70 million of the $250 million so far.
  • Emerging narrative: SI's Albert Breer claims the perception inside the AAF is that Dundon bought a majority stake simply for the gambling app being developed. "Dundon got the technology he wanted and he’s now minus one rather large headache," a source told him.
  • My take on that narrative: You're telling me my man paid $70 million for an app? Yeah, no.

What they're saying: League co-founder Bill Polian is pissed.

"When Mr. Dundon took over, it was the belief of my co-founder, Charlie Ebersol, and myself that we would finish the season, pay our creditors, and make the necessary adjustments to move forward in a manner that made economic sense for all. Unfortunately, Mr. Dundon has elected this course of action."
— Bill Polian (via Twitter)

The bottom line: The AAF created a quality football product that appears to have ultimately been undone by a lack of funding and, later, a lack of a singular vision for the future.

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