- The Alliance of American Football failed to complete a single season of play before folding due to financial issues.
- Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr wrote about the downfall of the league in a recent report, detailing the decisions and deals that ultimately lead to the Alliance’s collapse.
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The Alliance of American Football was just the latest in a long line of upstart spring football leagues to fail before they could truly get off the ground.
After a promising start to its inaugural season, the AAF quickly found itself in financial peril, and in need of an outside investor to keep the league afloat.
The investment came from Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon, who committed $250 million to the league to take over as the controlling owner of the Alliance after just a few games had been played. While the move may have kept the league alive, according to a report from Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr, the difference in priorities between Dundon and AAF co-founder Charlie Ebersol began to show quickly.
Ebersol pitched the AAF not just as a football league, but as a tech company, working to develop an interactive app that would allow fans to follow the action on the field in real-time, and ideally, eventually gamble on what would happen next in any game.
As Orr writes, while the Alliance’s engineers and app were both great sources of pride for Ebersol, one engineer said that Dundon “couldn’t give a s— about the tech.”
Rather than the three-year growth plan that Ebersol set out for the league, Dundon, whose millions were being burned by the league week after week, attempted to force the issue of an official partnership with the NFL, even threatening to shutter the league as part of a negotiating tactic.
But while Dundon played hardball with hopes of reaching profitability on a vastly accelerated timeline, he was also attempting to cut costs the league was taking on by any means necessary.
According to Orr, there were quite a few changes in the final week of the AAF’s existence:
“Amid growing speculation that Ebersol’s new league was on shaky ground, the Hotshots had flown to Texas in Week 8 on a plane much smaller than the one they were used to. On arrival they found their hotel space so inadequate that the offense did its pregame walkthrough in the parking lot. Across the league, employees were feeling a similar pinch. Nonessential personnel were increasingly barred from traveling at all. Work computers were suddenly inventoried. One player even recalls getting a notification on his team communications app, warning against taking expensive bottles of Cholula hot sauce away from the dining area. Now an impending doom was making its way to the media.”
Ultimately, efforts to trim the costs of running the league fell short, and Dundon decided to suddenly end the league two weeks short of the scheduled end of its regular season. The move left many players and personnel stranded across the league’s host cities, dealing with unexpected bills and wondering whether the injuries they sustained while playing would still be covered.
You can read Orr’s entire piece on the downfall of the AAF here.
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