The AAF and FCFL look like they may beat out the returning XFL
By Cam Giangrande
Over the next two years, three separate groups will introduce their versions of Spring football to America. In February of 2020, Vince McMahon, the head of the World Wrestling Entertainment, (WWE), will be bringing back his XFL. He hasn’t given many details about the new league, other than to say the players will be forced to stand for the National Anthem. He promises to tweak the league where it failed during its only season, nearly 20 years later. The league will have a 10-game regular season.
Even though he’s dumping 100 million of his own money into this, it will be a full two years before the first ball is thrown. A second, more intriguing league is being formed, which is slated to start their games next year, in February of 2019. By the time McMahons’s XFL is ready to be unveiled; his league may already be in a figure four leg lock, with no audience to appeal to.
This other league is being formed by Charlie Ebersol, who is Dick Ebersol’s son. Dick Ebersol is the former NBC executive who worked with McMahon to create the XFL during its original run in 2001. They are calling the league the “Alliance of American Football”, (AAF). Truth be told, I’m not in love with the name. But, of these two new leagues, this is the one which seems like it may have legs, and stick around for awhile. The closest thing there’s been to a successful spring league was the USFL, which had a three season run from 1983-1985. There’s a terrific ESPN documentary titled, “Who Killed the USFL”.
That league had a following, and it had star power. It also had a fantastic brand of football. The league boasted names like Doug Flutie, Herschel Walker, Jim Kelly, and Steve Young. They had cool uniforms and cool team names: there was the New Jersey Generals, L.A. Express, and Houston Gamblers. And, they had charismatic and famous owners: Burt Reynolds, and of course, our current President, Donald J Trump.
Ultimately it was the league’s success which led to its demise. The hubris and greed of some of the owners is what killed the league. They grew too fast; the initial season was created with 12 teams. By year two, they added six more teams, (a 50% increase in only one year), which may have proved to be successful for a few league owners, but unsustainable to create a stable league. Some teams fought to create a market which wasn’t there, forcing league migration. For instance, in three seasons, the Boston Breakers became the New Orleans Breakers, who became the Portland Breakers. The Philadelphia Stars became the Baltimore Stars, and the Washington Federals became the Orlando Renegades. If the league remained a 12 team contingent, I believe they would have remained a viable product, slowly gaining market share, and expanding over time, methodically and smartly. Pigs get fat, and hogs get slaughtered.
I think the Ebersols looked at all these various spring leagues, and will take all the good things from them, while learning from the past and not repeat history with things that failed. To begin with, they are starting with only eight teams, playing a 10-game schedule. They are starting the week after the Super Bowl, so there will still be an appetite for the game. During that time of year, there still isn’t much competition. Baseball hasn’t started, and hockey and basketball are still months away from their playoffs.
They have an affiliation with CBS, who will air some of their games. They have procured venture capital money from two huge groups, The Founders Fund, and The Chernin Group. They have a former NFL player, Jared Allen as an investor too; as well as former NFL players and executives involved. Former GM Bill Polian is part of the organizing committee, while former players, Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, and Justin Tuck will be involved on the player’s side of the aisle.
They will integrate a few interesting wrinkles into this new league. For instance, there will be no kicked extra points. After touchdowns there will only be two point conversions. There will be no kickoffs. At the start of the game, half, and after each score, the ball will be placed at the 25 yard line. There will be no onside kicks. The losing team will have the option of placing the ball at their own 35-yard line and instead of 1st and 10, it will be 4th and 10.
The league will attempt to bring a local flavor by having regional drafts/allocations.The rationale is that if football players are already known to the local fanbase, there may be an immediate connection and interest. For instance, let’s say there is a team in Virginia, (the eight teams haven’t been announced yet), and there is a running back who played his college ball at Virginia Tech; that player may be placed on Virginia’s team. If the NFL had that rule, Tom Brady may have ended up with the Detroit Lions.
And finally, and probably the biggest reason this league will succeed….FANTASY FOOTBALL. This league has already said they were planning on marketing this league to fantasy players. Ebersol Sr. pointed out that 59 million people play fantasy sports, and 20 million of them play fantasy football exclusively, (Dan Okrent is rolling around in his grave, and the poor man isn’t even dead). He also pointed out that there won’t be a lack of talent to pool from, citing that there are 28,000 Division 1 college football players, while there are only 1,700 NFL spots. He is convinced the brand of football will be good and entertaining.
The league seems to have covered all the bases. They plan on growing and building methodically, with a seven to 10 year business plan. They will put an emphasis on fantasy football to grow their business. And, they are starting fairly small, in eight markets, which isn’t too big, but large enough to be a credible league.
Although those eight cities and markets haven’t been announced, my guess is that there will be a solid mix of football-crazy regions, (The South), and big market areas, (Boston and New York), included. And, there may be a team or two which doesn’t already have an NFL team but is starving for football, (St Louis?). With eight teams and 10 games, it seems logical that there will be two divisions, (East and West), with each team playing their divisional opponent twice and every team in the opposite division once.
Detractors say that the brand of football will be lousy no matter what the league does. I disagree. It’s all relative; if these teams were forced to play an NFL team, (even the Browns), they’d most likely get killed. But, assuming all these teams are formed from a similar pool of players, the competition will be equal, and the brand will be fine. If you’ve ever gone to a minor league baseball game, have you ever decried the lack of skill or lousy brand of baseball? I’ve been to a ton of minor league games, and they are usually quite entertaining. And speaking of minor league baseball, detractors also say there won’t be an audience for a lesser, “minor” football league. Most minor league baseball games draw 5,000-10,000 people per game. I have no doubt this ‘minor league” brand of football will be able to draw at least 10,000 people to their games. Even MLS soccer draws over 20,000 fans per game. Heck, even the WNBA draws about 7,500 fans per game…there will be a market for the most popular sport in the country.
I will be interested to see the type of player this league seeks out. Will the players be younger, coming out of college, but not quite good enough to play in the NFL? Or will they be older players who have lost a step and just can’t cut it anymore in the NFL? I think for the league to be successful ultimately, they may need both. I don’t think anyone wants to watch a “Senior” NFL league, like they watch the seniors golfing tour. But I also don’t think they want to see all young kids who are unknown NFL rejects. A blend of both will work nicely. Sprinking in some ex-NFL veterans to give the league an added level of credibility and name recognition will be important.
The third league which is forming will be the most unique league of the bunch, and plans on starting the summer of this year, beating each of the other two leagues to the marketplace. The name of the league is the FCFL (Fan Controlled Football League). It is the first fan-driven league to ever hit the market, and it does exactly what the name says; it is a league controlled by the fans.
Head Ball Coach — #SteveSpurrier — confirms he is “interested” in coaching potential Orlando team in new pro league — Alliance of American Football. Here’s my blog and his comments: https://t.co/bMoI6qolyv pic.twitter.com/E1vlXBnzrt
— Mike Bianchi (@BianchiWrites) March 28, 2018
How many times have you disagreed with a call a coach makes, and know you’d do a better job? This league gives you the power, through 21st century technology. This league won’t really be in competition with the other two leagues, because it is truly in a category of its own. This isn’t your grandfather’s football league…but it will be your grandchild’s brand of football.
The concept came from a group a few years ago when they acquired an expansion team in the Indoor Football League. They developed the technology to have every aspect of the team controlled by the fans: from the location of the team, (Salt Lake City); to the name of the team, (Screaming Eagles), and the drafting of players, as well as actual play calls during the game, everything was at the fingertips of the fan. The Screaming Eagles finished the 2017 with the third best offense and rookie quarterback Verlon Reed was names rookie of the year.
That first season with the Screaming Eagles was merely a testing ground for bigger and better things. The founders of the league decided to take the concept and develop an entire league with the same concept. Starting this summer, this first entirely Fan-Controlled League will have its inaugural season. The indoor league will consist of eight, seven-player teams. All eight teams are slated to play on one field in one location, and be geared as an internet/video entity mainly for production value, and not as an in-house league meant to be watched in person, of rooted for by a local fan base.
Think of it like this, let’s say 80,000 people sign up to partake in the league; 10,000 people will be set up with each team. Each of those 10,000 people will have a vote regarding which players to draft. The player with the most votes is the one who gets selected. As the season goes on, the more you vote, the more weight your vote has. And by the end of the season, if your team wins the league, you will share in a prize, based on your level of participation.
For anyone who says there’s no room for any new football leagues, they are flat out wrong. Of the two “traditional” leagues being formed, the AAF has the best chance of success, and as I said, the FCFL will truly be in a category of their own. Usually whomever is first with a new idea or concept gets rewarded greatly; I have a feeling that the FCFL is the future of sports, for the traditionalists, and especially for the fantasy enthusiast.
I can see the concept expand and grow, where there are multiple leagues scattered around the country or even overseas. And I can envision expansion into other sports as well, especially baseball. This concept seems perfect for baseball, where there are 100s of decisions each and every game: (when to shift, sacrifice bunt, suicide squeeze, hit and run, steal, pitching change…etc). I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys expanded to baseball soon, by buying a minor league franchise, and running it the same way, with the fans in charge.
We must not fear change, we must embrace it…the future is coming whether we like it or not. In many ways, it’s already here.
Here’s more on the FCFL coming debut from Sportsgrid.