The league’s first set of games were played Saturday, launching a new era for pro football
Last weekend marked the beginning of the upstart Alliance of American Football, a new eight team football league that will play in the spring rather than the fall. Opening up to mixed reviews, this new brand of football will have to climb an uphill battle for it to become a mainstay in American sports.
The Alliance, co-founded by film producer Charlie Ebersol and NFL Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian, is being billed as a developmental league rather than as a competitor to the NFL.
The Alliance carries some names you may know, like Trent Richardson or Christian Hackenberg, but the real star power is at head coach.
Numerous big name coaches such as Steve Spurrier, Rich Neuheisel and Mike Riley are heading AAF teams this season.
Unlike other sports leagues, all teams in the league are owned by the Alliance and not individual owners.
Additionally, all players signed onto teams are signed to non-guaranteed 3-year, $250,000 deals, making the pay comparable to CFL salaries.
Currently, six of the eight teams play in markets without an NFL franchise, with the exceptions being in Arizona and Atlanta.
Also, the league is experimenting with rule changes such as banning kickoffs and extra points, having no field goals in overtime, and allowing only five defenders to blitz on any given play. If anyone tuned into CBS on Saturday night to watch the league opener, you were treated to a defensive battle.
In front of a crowd of over 27,000 at the Alamodome, the San Antonio Commanders defeated the San Diego Fleet, 15-6. The fans in attendance already sounded like die-hard supporters of the Commanders, and gave hope that the league could attract people to its product. We even saw Orlando draw 20,000 people in a rainy 40-6 victory.
The other side of the coin was shown a day later, when the Salt Lake/Arizona game turned out less than 12,000 fans.
Additionally, the game in Birmingham barely scratched 17,000 attendees, very bad for a stadium with a capacity of over 71,000 fans. The Birmingham statistic is even worse if you consider the fact that the only competitors in the city are a minor league hockey team and the UAB Blazers.
There is a lot of work to be done with the Alliance, but the early signs are intriguing. Despite the low attendance, the CBS broadcast of San Diego/San Antonio outdrew the Rockets-Thunder game on ESPN.
On top of that, the quality of football being displayed was actually quite enjoyable to watch, even if the quarterbacks made some questionable throws. Hopefully the Alliance can blossom into the NFL’s minor league system that is has failed to achieve, and hopefully it won’t be thrown to the wayside like its predecessors.
Feature photo courtesy of the Associated Press.