The NFL now faces another unexpected competitor.
An ESPN documentary filmmaker and a former NFL executive are teaming up to launch their own football league, titled the “Alliance of American Football,” beginning in February 2019, ESPN reports.
The AAF is being spearheaded by Charlie Ebersol, director of ESPN’s “30 for 30.” His father, Dick Ebersol, was a partner in the one-season XFL league organized by WWE CEO Vince McMahon.
Working with Ebersol is Bill Polian, formerly NFL general manager and currently an analyst for ESPN.
The partners have recruited major talent to help them make the AAF a success. Former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is overseeing the player side, while the team side is headed by USC Senior Athletic Director J.K. McKay.
The new league will debut the week after Super Bowl LIII, will run for 10 weeks, and have 50-man teams. Big money backing the project, including the likes of Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, The Chernin Group, and former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.
“Fifty-nine million people play fantasy and 20 million people play only fantasy football,” Ebersol told ESPN of his plans. “We have to be able to take advantage of the people who just stop playing fantasy when the NFL season ends.”
The fledgling league already has a media agreement with CBS, which will air the initial and championship games and broadcast one match-up per week on CBS Sports Network.
The AAS will not directly compete with the NFL, but will instead play during the off-season and feature players who didn’t make the NFL cut.
“There are 28,000 Division I football players. Only 1,700 have NFL jobs,” Ebersol said. “We’re looking for those Kurt Warners working in grocery stores, and we think we will find them.”
To reel in football fans, the AAF will make some modifications to the NFL’s rules. There will be no kickoffs and no onside kicks. Instead, the ball will be placed automatically on the 25-yard line.
Play clocks will be 30 seconds and touchdowns will be followed-up by a two-point conversion attempt.
Additionally, games will be interrupted by 60 percent fewer commercials than the NFL.
The league will start will eight teams in eight cities, which will be announced within the next three months.
Asked why he believes the AAF will succeed where other NFL competitors have failed, Ebersol said:
“I think where businesses like this fail is that they expect to have ludicrous and unrealistic ticket and media deal projections in Year 1. Our investors here understand that it’s a seven- to 10-year plan.”
Football fans will have multiple viewing options in a couple years. The XFL is set to be revived in 2020, McMahon announced in January.
The XFL will begin its 10-week season in January, will feature faster games, and will reportedly be politics-free.
The NFL saw a nearly 10-point drop in ratings last season compared to 2016.
Critics of the league said the decline in viewership was related to the ongoing protests of the national anthem.
“People don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained,” McMahon told ESPN. “We want someone who wants to take a knee to do their version of that on their personal time.”
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