There are two things that Americans love nothing more to do than watch football and bet on it.
The eight-team Alliance of American Football (AAF) kicks off its inaugural season on Saturday promising both; a quality product on the field and real time wagering.
For many though the biggest gamble being taken this weekend is by AAF co-founders film maker Charlie Ebersol and former National Football League (NFL) executive Bill Polian who are betting they can succeed were many others have failed.
The United States Football League, in which president Donald Trump owned a franchise, operated for three seasons then disappeared without a trace in 1986.
The XFL, the brainchild of World Wrestling Entertainment impresario Vince McMahon, began play in 2001 and flamed out after one season.
While leagues have come and gone, the monolithic NFL remains unbreached with commissioner Roger Goodell targeting $25 billion in annual revenues by 2027.
Now, just a week after the Super Bowl the AAF is looking for a piece of that pie by tapping into some of what it says are the “nearly 80 million people that stop watching sports completely after a Super Bowl champion is crowned.”
“We believe that if we deliver football in a meaningful way we can do something that is really worthwhile,” Ebersol told Reuters. “The support for the sport is unequivocal and unquestioned.”
There is no escaping the U.S. appetite for gridiron whether it be the NFL, college or high school.
Even though television ratings for the Super Bowl were down for a second straight year, nearly 100 million people, almost a third of the U.S. population, tuned in to watch the New England Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams.
Unlike the NBA, MLB and NHL, the NFL has yet to sign on with official sports betting partners but wagering is as much a part of football as tackling with an estimated $6 billion bet illegally on last Sunday’s Super Bowl in Atlanta.
The AAF has built a proprietary tech platform, that Ebersol described as a “game changer” that will allow for a real-time, rewards-based system of integrated gaming and in-game wagering to fans in states where sports gambling is legalized.
Currently no AAF teams are in states with legalized sports betting but Ebersol admitted it was no coincidence the league will stage its first championship game on April 27 in Las Vegas — a city without an AAF franchise.
MGM also happens to be the official sports betting sponsor of the AAF and an investor in the league’s technology.
“Ultimately I think gambling is going to become a staple of professional sports,” said Ebersol. “We have built a data capture and manifestation platform that’s capable of standardizing the delivery of that data to gambling houses and fantasy leagues.
“That proprietary technology we have built will become apparent to people over the next couple of years but it all starts with putting quality football on the field.”
The AAF says it will deliver a tightly packaged, fast-paced product that will have fans in and out of the stadium in two and a half hours.
They have tweaked the NFL rule book but not rewritten it so as not to alienate fans.
Among the changes there will be no kickoffs, no halftime, no television timeouts and teams must attempt two-point conversions after a touchdown.
“We believe we have created a product that can succeed in the ecosystem of football fans can tune into a game that they love that is the same as a normal football game,” said Ebersol.
The AAF is set up as a single entity business model that will see the league sign contracts and distribute players.
All players will sign three-year $250,000 deals that will pay them $70,000 in the first year, $80,000 in year two and $100,000 the third year.
As Ebersol pointed out there is a large talent pool from which to draw with colleges churning out 25,000 graduating players every year with only about 200 going on to the NFL.
hile the AAF cannot compete with the NFL for top talent there will be familiar names sprinkled throughout the league like former quarterback Michael Vick, offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Legends.
The AAF also says it will be a league of “second chances” offering some players who have run afoul of the NFL an opportunity to continue there careers.
“We are the league of opportunity,” said Ebersol. “If your heart is in the right place and you are willing to play with all of your heart in our league you have a place.
“There are obviously exceptions what you have done but for the most part we are looking to give players first, second and perhaps last chances to play.”