Alternative football leagues have garnered a well-earned reputation as a fool’s errand over the last several decades.
The recently announced Alliance of American Football (AAF) could ultimately prove an exception to the rule. Legalized sports betting — a potential magnet that predecessors like the AFL, USFL and UFL couldn’t reap the benefits of — is poised to play a part in that.
AAF coming off as organized, progressive
To be clear, the AAF has already laid out what appears to be a rock-solid foundation in an operational sense:
- The league has snagged a pair of notable TV partners, CBS and CBS Sports Network, for its inaugural season.
- It boasts a management structure replete with respected names, including former Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers general manager Bill Polian.
- It plans to play with a manageable eight teams – five in non-NFL cities – over a 10-week period during the football-barren spring.
- It’s contracted a slew of head coaches that pack solid name recognition, including Steve Spurrier, Mike Singletary and Mike Martz.
- It includes several rules designed to speed up and/or make the game more exciting, including limited coach’s challenges, a shorter play clock and two-point conversions in lieu of extra points.
- And perhaps just as important, it’s co-founded by Charlie Ebersol, who’s made no bones of his intentions to make fan integration – a large part of it via mobile technology – a pivotal part of the AAF experience.
League’s planned fantasy product projected to have sports betting-like format
The final point partly alludes to the AAF’s plans for its in-house fantasy product. Notably, the AAF’s planned mobile app will not only stream games free of charge – it will also reportedly include “a fully integrated fantasy experience, where you can play while you’re watching”, according to Ebersol.
Taken at face value, it sounds as if the AAF is primed to offer the fantasy equivalent of in-game prop betting. That model is currently being deployed with varying level of success by operators such as Boom Fantasy and Fanamana’s InGame Fantasy. However, as a proprietary offering of a professional sports league, it would seemingly qualify as a first.
Embrace of new landscape would be a prudent move
And if the AAF is already thinking outside the box with respect to fantasy football, what’s to say it won’t cozy up to sports betting in some form or fashion?
An AAF-sponsored sportsbook is a bit much. However, an embrace of the new legalized sports betting landscape — one that includes information on lines and props being disseminated on the league’s broadcast and digital properties — is perfectly plausible.
After all, the inevitable media avalanche of sports betting content has already started rolling downhill:
- Brent Musburger’s Vegas Stats and Information Network, a pioneer of sorts, launched more than a full year before the recent landmark SCOTUS decision.
- ESPN then waited all of about five minutes after the eradication of PASPA before kicking off “I’ll Take That Bet” — featuring prognostications from several experts — on its streaming platform, in conjunction with the Action Network.
- The NFL consented to sports betting content having a prominent presence on network pregame shows for years when the activity was illegal; it only stands to reason that type of content will be exponentially pervasive now that the ban has been obliterated.
AAF’s timing may be particularly fortuitous
The ability to put some skin in the game has long proven to enhance the viewership of a variety of sports. Nevada-based wagering and illegal betting have both corroborated this over the years – especially with football. And more recently, daily fantasy sports and its often-mammoth jackpots has also moved the needle of fan interest.
The fact the league is partly headed by an apparently forward-thinking 30-something in Ebersol doesn’t hurt, either. Given his age, he’s undoubtedly fully in the loop with today’s technology and media consumption trends – the AAF’s aforementioned plans for its fantasy product clearly bear that out.
And their apparently keen awareness of what appeals to the modern fan is likely to lead to a healthy relationship with legal sports wagering – a very good bet for a league trying to beat some steep odds.
After all, there’s nothing like being able to plunk down a few bucks on whether Singletary will fire up his squad by shedding his pants to keep eyeballs on the product.
Image courtesy of Alliance of American Football