AAF Majority Owner Threatens to Fold League

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Alliance of American Football majority owner and chairman Tom Dundon has warned that the start-up league is in danger of folding if the NFL players association refuses to allocate young players to its teams. AAF ownership has held on to the hope that the NFL would use the league to get its 3rd string QBs, back-up lineman and practice squad players much needed reps, but the NFLPA, concerned about player safety (and the financial ramifications of injuries suffered), opposes the plan. Dundon, who is “exploring all options, one of which is discontinuing the league”, plans to announce a decision on its future within the next 48 hours.

Howie Long-Short: Wednesday’s announcement came as a surprise. The AAF has always positioned itself as a developmental league, providing players (and coaches) with the best option “if your goal is to get back to (or to) the NFL”, but it never publicly stated that its success was contingent upon NFLPA participation. Founder Charlie Ebersol told us just a few weeks ago that the league’s investment in the “quality of football” and the broadcast presentation was why his league would succeed where others failed before him.

If the AAF business model was predicated on a formal affiliation with the NFL, why spend tens of millions of dollars to play the 2019 season without their support? According to Darren Rovell, it’s because the league strategy changed once Dundon took control. While Ebersol and Bill Polian had hoped to take a slow and steady approach, “potentially becoming a feeder system to the NFL by year 3”, Dundon wants to immediately serve in that capacity. The problem is as we told you in Early Entrants: Vol. V, the NFL is going to take a wait and see approach here and there’s been no indication that the NFLPA would ever agree to such an arrangement.

When the Carolina Hurricanes owner “bought the league” 5 weeks ago he suggested that the “stunning growth in-stadium and across TV, mobile and social media” had convinced him to increase his stake, but gate attendance and television viewership has been trending downward since. It’s likely the billionaire businessman now sees that the writing is on the wall for the AAF and wisely wants to cut his losses (Action Network reported he’s pumped in $70 million to date). Dundon knows 3rd string QBs aren’t saving this league, NFL Europe had NFLPA participation and the league still failed. He also knows the NFLPA isn’t on board and suggesting that the league’s success hinges on their involvement gives him easy out. The 48-hour timeline (by Friday 3.29) is in place because if they are going to disband, there’s no need to burn millions putting on this weekend’s games.

If Dundon does decide to drop the curtain on the start-up league, we can’t say he didn’t warn us. He told reporters back on February 19th that his participation remained a week to week proposition and that he could stop funding at any time if it became apparent that “nobody wants the product.”

The NFLPA opposes an alliance with the Alliance because the risks far outweigh the rewards. NFL players use the off-season to rest and recover and the league’s CBA forbids teams from holding mandatory workouts/practices to ensure the players are afforded that time. Forcing players to compete during the off-season would place them at risk of an injury that could negatively impact their future earnings; remember, NFL player contracts aren’t guaranteed.

Fan Marino: The AAF has drawn respectable television numbers through 7 weeks, averaging 603,000 viewers/game across CBS, TNT and NFL Network, but last weekend’s highest rated game drew fewer 350,000. 600,000 fans/game is impressive relative to what NFL Network would typically draw on a Saturday or Sunday evening, but considering what the league is spending to put on the games (one source suggested it could be as much as $5 million/per) the business model remains a losing proposition.

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Author: John Wall Street

At the intersection of sports & finance.

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