The American Alliance Football league, created to be the next big farm league in the United States, folded after just nine weeks of play, and analysts and outsiders are still wondering why.
The American Alliance Football League (AAF) was an NFL feeder league that was founded in 2018 by television producer Charlie Ebersol and former NFL Executive Bill Polian. The league was initially created to be a development league for NFL athletes that could use the extra training and development. It was intended to help these players get ready for their upcoming season. Tom Dundon the commissioner had announced that there would be eight teams entering play this season and once they had completed the ten week season, expansion of the AAF would be considered. The league was gaining popularity before the season had even started and while team names were being announced, player names and team rosters were too. With the popularity growth spurt, the AAF had even managed to attract two former NFL star quarterbacks: Christian Hackenberg and Johnny Manziel. During its first weekend in football action, the television ratings for the network CBS were averaging 3.25 million viewers.
Wages in the league were tight as each player could get a deal of 250,000 over three years with nothing more. Even still, it took just weeks for the league to start missing paychecks. Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon stepped in and become the league’s chairman with a $250 million investment. In week seven, the San Antonio Commanders attracted a crowd of 30,345, whereas teams in Salt Lake City and Phoenix struggled to engage more than 10,000 fans. The league was averaging 15,000 a game. TV ratings through the eight weeks were solid and the league was even posting better ratings than the MLS. Despite TV ratings holding high through week eight, stadiums were not nearly filled enough.
The league was losing money fast and in order to survive, it needed the NFL players association to sign off on letting players on NFL practice squads compete in the AAF. Tom Dundon had reportedly lost 70 million already from his initial investment and he was close to losing more if the league continued down this path. Dundon stated the league could be in danger of folding very soon if nothing was stabilized. However, the AAF and the NFL players association were not able to reach a deal before the proposed deadline and within hours, chairman Tom Dundon was forced to pull the plug.
The league suspended operations on April 2 and filed for bankruptcy two weeks later.
After the AAF had folded, it left a lot of people without jobs. Players, coaches, general managers but also people behind the scenes, were left in the dust of unemployment. Most players were ordered to find their own ways home while the league supplied no money to the players in this tough process.
The alliance was a close-knit league and the players considered each other brothers, when Brad Sternberg, a video operations and football employee announced to his squad that his wife was right into labor one night after the game, the whole team huddled around him at a bar and cheered as his baby was being delivered through Facetime, and once the baby was fully out, the squad all cheered around Sternberg and gave hugs and high fives.
Unfortunately, stories of that kind of solidarity are gone, as the AAF dream has faded.