New football league called Alliance of American Football is launching in 2019
|Toronto Star 20 Mar 2018 at 15:51|
The NFL is under pressure from falling television ratings, lawsuits over its handling of concussions, and fan opposition to player protests during the national anthem.
Yet investors keep lining up to help start new football leagues. On Tuesday, longtime NFL executive Bill Polian and the television and movie producer Charlie Ebersol became the latest entrepreneurs to join the fray when they unveiled plans for the Alliance of American Football.
There have been several short-lived football leagues before, including the United Football League, United States Football League and XFL. Like others before them, Polian and Ebersol say they have a formula for success. They have acquired investments from Silicon Valley firms that will allow their eight-team league to start playing a week after the Super Bowl in February 2019. Their partners include CBS, which will show a few games on its main channel and some on its cable network. They will also launch a smartphone app on which fans will be able to stream games and play fantasy football.
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The league will also aim for 2-1/2-hour games (NFL games generally last at least three hours). To achieve that, there will be no kickoffs or extra points — only 2-point plays — and a 30-second play clock, as opposed to the NFL’s 45-second clock. There will also be no television timeouts, which will lead to about 60 per cent fewer commercials.
Ebersol, whose father, Dick Ebersol, ran NBC Sports for many years, said each team would be owned by the league, which would reduce the likelihood of teams being sold and of infighting among owners about the direction of the business. The league will also draw from the pool of undrafted college players and others who are not on an NFL roster.
“This is not a development league,” Ebersol said. “There are tens of thousands of players who don’t have a job, which translates into hundreds of Kurt Warners” — a reference to the quarterback who spent time playing in the indoor Arena Football League before putting together a Hall of Famer career in the NFL.
Ebersol declined to say whether the league would receive a media rights fee from CBS. But he said there was enough funding to get the league on its feet. He said the league would appeal to the tens of millions of fans who play fantasy football but must stop playing once the NFL season ends.
The Alliance of American Football, though, will have to overcome the obstacles that others could not, including runaway expenses, limited media exposure and a lack of fans. It will also have to compete with a new development league being started by Don Yee, the football agent who represents Tom Brady, which will focus on players who want to skip college. Pro wrestling impresario Vince McMahon said in January he was going to revive the XFL, which folded in its initial effort more than a decade ago, in 2020.