On Thursday, an article was posted on ESPN about the collapse of the AAF, or as it was called, The Alliance of American Football. The article summarizes and goes into great detail on the final hours of the league, including the lives of several of those closely involved with the league, like Charlie Ebersol, son of famous television producer Dick Ebersol, and Bill Polian, former analyst at ESPN and longtime NFL executive.
I’m not sure what the obsession is with starting a spring football league to either compete against the NFL, or as The Alliance was attempting to do, compliment the NFL by helping develop players. But it’s never worked. For some odd reason, there seems to be this belief that there is this untapped market of people looking for more football. We’ve seen it before. Donald Trump tried it back in the 1980s with the USFL, Vince McMahon tried it with the XFL in 2001, and now we’ve seen Charlie Ebersol and a group of investors attempt it just months ago … and failed faster than the previous ones.
What makes football such a great sport is it’s limited appearances. The NFL leaves you wanting more. There’s no greater lowly feeling similar to that of the day after Christmas feeling than the day after the Super Bowl when the last NFL game is over with until September. The feeling from Sunday to Sunday (or sometimes Thursday) for NFL fans is filled with anticipation—not to mention checking practice and injury reports. Teams only play one game per week, where as baseball and basketball teams play multiple throughout a week.
I honestly believe there isn’t a so-called untapped market for a spring football league. Why would there be? Does anyone like watching minor league baseball on television? Or minor league anything? I don’t even know if any minor league baseball teams are on television, and if they are, I’d bet it’s only local channels. A minor league to the NFL says, “You couldn’t make it in the NFL.” Plus, the feeder system for the NFL is called the NCAA, where they play a day before, they’re all around the same age and playing for a chance to be drafted to the NFL.
Minor league baseball at least has one thing going for it – its identity. It’s not trying to be bigger than what it is—which is the training ground for potential players at the next level. But more importantly, it knows what it is by being able to somewhat laugh at itself. It draws people into their stadiums with cheap tickets, easy settings and gimmick nights like fireworks, giveaways and pop culture related references with special uniforms—very tongue-in-cheek.
Could or would minor league football do such a thing like gimmicks? The first incarnation of the XFL tried that by incorporating some of Vince McMahon’s wrestling theatrics. That obviously didn’t work. Outside of play-calling, football should shy away from being gimmicky because it’s too gritty of a sport, too complex with too many moving parts to look at it any other way.
With that being said, it basically all comes down to talent, which if your now the XFL that will be second and third tier (maybe lower) talent. Having professional football played at a different time of the year can’t be the only identity if attempting to make a spring football league—it has to be more than that. So if your talent is less than the best of the best, what exactly has people clamoring to watch the product, what’s its drawing power? Just throwing the word football on the screen isn’t enough.
The Big3 basketball league is a great example of finding their identity. The league concentrates on 3 on 3 basketball, deviating from some of the NBA rules and uses former players and international players to build their rosters. They just recently signed a broadcast deal in April with CBS Sports. However, like the USFL, AAF, XFL or these plethora of other leagues attempting to come in, I’m not sure there’s a need for another basketball league either.
Who asked for another football league? Did we, the fans, ask for it? We asked for more football, sure, but I don’t believe we were asking for another league to invest into. Less is more. I believe most fans appreciate the offseason, because let’s face it—sports are an investment of our time and money.