The Alliance of American Football (AAF or “The Alliance” as CBS calls it) kicked off its inaugural season over the weekend. The new professional football league is presenting itself as a minor league of sorts to the NFL. In fact, 81 percent of the players in the AAF have been under contract with an NFL team.
The AAF is also keenly aware that as a professional alternative to the NFL they have to do things differently. Between slightly augmented rules, a focus on technology, a different type of TV production, and openness to gambling the games were reasons to check out the new league.
All in all, it got off to a (mostly) great start out of the gate.
AAF on television
The first AAF game on TV was one of the best football viewing experiences in years. The game flowed very nicely with minimal interruptions. There are no kickoffs in the new league so play just starts. There may or may not be a short commercial break after a touchdown. The play clock is only 30 seconds so there’s shorter downtime between plays.
The game between the San Diego Fleet and San Antonio Commanders was a delight to watch. Unlike the NFL and college football, there were few stoppages of play for penalties or commercials. There are no TV timeouts and about half the commercials as an NFL broadcast.
Game action is one of the reasons why football is so popular. The games were over in three hours or less on opening weekend. Not too shabby.
— The Alliance (@TheAAF) February 10, 2019
Hitting is another reason football is so popular. The hit above would be a 15-yard penalty in the NFL. The hit would probably be targeting with a long review for a player to potentially be removed from the game in college football. This was just another play on the opening weekend of the AAF.
Overall, the players could have performed better but the production of a football game broadcast is off to a good start.
Watching and wagering on NFL games becomes more difficult every year. There’s a feeling that players, referees, and broadcaster don’t understand the rules. Replays are even worse than regular game action.
There’s often a long pause in the game and two or three announcers discuss plays amongst themselves than with a “rules analyst.” It seems as though nobody agrees and the ref often calls the opposite of the TV announcers without a reason for the call.
The long break in game action of the NFL games is boring and it seems as though nobody knows the rules because there’s no transparency from the league. Fans are often frustrated by the lack of continuity in the game. Bettors just want consistent calls in order to make the best bets.
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 10, 2019
The AAF might be onto something with their replay system. The league has a “sky judge” replay official at each game. This replay official can stop play at any time to double check the officials on the field. They can also review challenged calls by coaches. This is a review that doesn’t last more than two minutes.
The process is quick and transparent and one of the more popular additions to the football broadcast. There weren’t any controversial calls and viewers seem happy with the process.
A ratings winner … sort of
The first AAF broadcast on CBS drew a 2.1 overnight rating. More people watched the first AAF game than the Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder on ABC. Opening night was a winner, but that success won’t last long.
The AAF has multiple television partners. Much like Major League Baseball playoff games on multiple channels, it could become slightly confusing trying to find AAF games.
The league has deals to show games on CBS Sports, NFL Network, TNT, B/R Live and their own app. There won’t be a game on CBS again until the Championship game. Traditional broadcast TV still gets better overall rating than cable or streaming channels. The splintered audience looking for games will likely bring ratings down.
The Arizona Hotshots vs. Salt Lake Stallions game on NFL Network had a 0.4 overnight rating. That might not be bad for NFL Network on a Sunday afternoon in the off-season but it’s not the same as that 2.1 rating on the opening night.
Ratings don’t alter the overall viewing experience. However, they do matter for the longevity of the league. Fans of the new football league should root for them to do well so there are more games in the future.
AAF gambling and fantasy
Nevada sportsbooks seem to be all about betting on The Alliance. Just about every sportsbook had lines and totals to bet on games this weekend. A few sportsbooks offered preseason AAF futures odds. The AAF even flew some sportsbook personnel to San Antonio to catch some games before the season started.
Unfortunately, few sportsbooks outside of Nevada offered odds on the first week of AAF games. Even where betting on the AAF was available it was limited to pregame action. There were no in-play or live betting options available. This kept the betting action to a minimum.
AAF betting in Nevada sportsbooks varied by location, according to ESPN’s David Purdum. Handle on the NFL Pro Bowl was five times more than the first batch of AAF games at Caesars Entertainment sportsbooks. Meanwhile, it was equal to an average college basketball game at the Westgate SuperBook.
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) February 10, 2019
The AAF fantasy game wasn’t ready for the opening weekend. The in-app game can be seen but the prediction part isn’t ready. This might be a bit frustrating for fantasy players looking to pick plays once it becomes available.
The animated player tracking of the game in the app is live and slightly ahead of cable broadcasts. It’s about two plays ahead of streaming broadcasts. Those issues aside, it looks super cool for players that don’t need everything in sync.
There’s definitely something good about the AAF. The players weren’t great but they weren’t awful and should get better. Gameplay should improve as players have time in the new systems.
The games were fun to watch on television. The streamlined broadcast offers almost non-stop action. The new league might not be front of mind for everyone but it’s definitely a fun way to spend a few hours on a weekend.