May 20, 2019
Just weeks after its sudden collapse, we take our first look at the brief life of the Alliance of American Football with Sports Illustrated football writer and MMQB NFL podcast host Conor Orr (The Curious Rise and Spectacular Crash of the Alliance of American Football; More Strange Tales from the Collapse of the AAF).
Inspired by his work producing the 2017 documentary This Was the XFL for ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 series, director Charlie Ebersol concluded that the renegade league co-created by his father (NBC Sports producer Dick) and World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) impresario Vince McMahon in 2001 had actually been a viable concept, but poorly executed – especially the subpar quality of on-field play.
After reportedly being rebuffed by McMahon to potentially revive the old XFL brand, Ebersol instead dove into planning for his nascent AAF – with the prime focus on solid football product; the “Alliance” formally announced its launch on March 20, 2018, and by June had more than 100 players under contract.
What followed was months of methodical and seemingly well-conceived efforts to: construct a solid football operations infrastructure under veteran NFL executive Bill Polian (including top coaches like Steve Spurrier, Rick Neuheisel and Dennis Erickson); solicit investment from (supposedly) stable deep-pocketed investors (such as player-turned-entrepreneur-turned-NFL-owner Reggie Fowler); develop business-enhancing media, data and wagering technology to augment on-field play; and even devise evolved rules to speed up games and improve player safety.
The AAF made its debut with two simultaneous Saturday evening games in San Antonio and Orlando on February 11, 2019 in front of a surprisingly large CBS national primetime TV audience – but the league’s operational wheels started coming off almost immediately. Chief among the issues: a Week One cash call that investor Fowler couldn’t cover, and a hastily-arranged $250MM majority equity investment from NHL Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon – who quickly concluded that operational finances were dangerously unstable, and likely unsustainable.
After weeks of maneuvering, Dundon pulled the plug on further funding his pledge (rumored as only $70MM of the promised amount), announcing the suspension of the league’s operations on April 2nd – just two weeks shy of completing the regular season. 15 days later, the AAF filed for Chapter 7 (liquidation) bankruptcy.
SI’s Orr walks host Tim Hanlon through the league’s chronology, the facts as we know them today, and what’s likely to come in the months ahead as the story of the AAF continues to play out.