The rumors had been floating around for the last couple of weeks, but on Tuesday it was official. The Alliance of American Football (AAF) has officially suspended operations. This decision was made by AAF chairman Tom Dundon, although co-founder Bill Polian has voiced opposition to this move, leaving the league's future in doubt. If the AAF does indeed shut its doors, it will go down as yet another failed professional football league.
The AAF had been compared in some regards to Vince McMahon's XFL, which completed it's 2001 season before shutting down. But it wouldn't surprise me if the XFL, which will relaunch in 2020, is taking notes on the events transpiring with the AAF. The AAF got off to a promising start. After kicking off the week following Super Bowl LIII, the league drew plenty of eyes to televisions and mobile devices nationwide and generated a decent amount of social media buzz.
While the television ratings have waned to some degree since then, fans continued to give the AAF a chance. The league made it's biggest splash when the Memphis Express signed former Texas A&M, NFL, and CFL quarterback Johnny Manziel. The AAF also gave second chances to many former NFL and college stars and brought some of the game's best coaches back to the forefront. Unfortunately, it was the business side that caused the AAF to come to a stop with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
The Orlando Apollos and the Birmingham Iron had already clinched playoff spots with their wins last week, and the league was preparing to host its championship game at the Dallas Cowboys' practice facility in Frisco, Texas, at the end of this month. While the league hasn't completely folded yet, this is the first step in that direction. Here are four reasons why this situation has come about.
1. The league didn't meet it's goal of becoming a minor league system for the NFL
From the outset, the AAF stated that they weren't out to compete with the National Football League. Instead, the plan was to develop players to be better prepared for the league with the goal of someday being a feeder system. The AAF had been negotiating with the NFL in regards to that goal, but it's being reported that they were met with resistance by both the NFL and NFLPA. This was due, in part, to concerns about compensation in the event that a player suffers a serious injury while playing for the AAF and thus puts their NFL season in jeopardy.
While those are valid concerns on the NFL's part, I believe that the AAF can still survive on its own accord. Unless both sides can work this issue out, this could very well be the nail in the coffin for the AAF.
2. The reported financial concerns never went away
When Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon invested $250 million in the league earlier this season, it coincided with reports around the same time that players didn't receive their paychecks on time after Week 2. Dundon was named league chairman afterward, but reports persisted that the AAF wasn't on solid financial footing. While the league insisted that Dundon's investment was a belief in the AAF's future success (especially after it was reported that the league's original investor pulled out), the speculation never ceased. Now that the AAF is on hold, those questions have grown even louder.
3. Attendance could have been better
While the Apollos, San Antonio Commanders, and the San Diego Fleet reached the 20,000-mark in ticket sales (30,000 for San Antonio in Week 1) more than once this season, average attendance league-wide, for the most part, was between 9,000 and 13,000. There were no reported sellouts, and the rainy/snowy weather in the first few weeks didn't help matters, but one has to wonder if this also played a role in the decision to suspend operations.
4. TV ratings couldn't repeat Week 1's success
After reaching 3 million viewers in its opening week, the AAF has only drawn about 1 million viewers in the weeks since. Recently, however, some AAF broadcasts surpassed those of the NHL and MLS, but never again reached the heights of kickoff week. While the ratings were solid all year, a consistent weekly increase is always the desired outcome.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.