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.
The Alliance of American Football debuts this weekend and the new league offers some new football betting options for those looking to extend their gridiron action farther into the winter and spring.
The AAF features eight teams playing a 10-game season with one week of playoffs before a championship game in Las Vegas. The league has altered a few rules (including no kickoffs), but is promising to bring traditional football to fans beyond the Super Bowl. With MGM on board as an official sports betting partner and casinos setting lines for the action, here’s a look at the Week 1 odds, matchups, and everything you need to catch all the action.
Atlanta Legends at Orlando Apollos
Saturday, Feb. 9, 8 p.m. (EST) – CBS
Line: Orlando -4
Coaches: Kevin Coyle (Atlanta), Steve Spurrier (Orlando)
Players to Watch:
- Atlanta – Matt Simms, son of NFL legend Phil Simms, gets the start with Aaron Murray playing backup. Simms brings NFL experience with the Jets, Bills, and Falcons. RB Denard Robinson adds NFL experience (Jaguars) from the backfield.
- Orlando – Former University of Texas QB Garrett Gilbert leads the charge. He has a Super Bowl ring as a member of the Patriots’ practice squad in 2014. Look for plenty of passing in the Spurrier offense.
San Diego Fleet at San Antonio Commanders
Saturday, Feb. 9, 8 p.m. (EST) – CBS
Line: San Antonio -3.5
Coaches: Mike Martz (San Diego), Mike Riley (San Antonio)
Players to Watch:
- San Diego – Former Arizona State QB Mike Bercovici brings NFL experience (Chargers, Cardinals), and former Cowboys TE Gavin Escobar should be a passing option.
- San Antonio – Look for former Cowboys backup QB Dustin Vaughan to take command. Former University of Houston Cougar QB Greg Ward Jr. provides some speed and playmaking at WR.
Memphis Express at Birmingham Iron
Sunday, Feb. 10, 4 p.m. (EST) – CBS Sports Net
Line: Birmingham -2.5
Coaches: Mike Singletary (Memphis), Tim Lewis (Birmingham)
Players to Watch:
- Memphis – Former New York Jets second-round pick Christian Hackenberg leads the offense as QB with Zac Stacy providing experience at RB. Stacy spent three years as a Tennessee Titan.
- Birmingham – Former Alabama RB Trent Richardson hopes to make a comeback in the Alliance after flaming out with the Browns and Colts. QB Luis Perez was one of the best players in Division II in 2017, leading Texas A&M-Commerce to a national championship.
Salt Lake Stallions at Arizona Hotshots
Sunday, Feb. 10, 8 p.m. (EST) – NFL Network
Line: Arizona -4.5
Coaches: Dennis Erickson (Salt Lake), Rick Neuheisel (Arizona)
Players to Watch:
- Salt Lake – Former Liberty QB Josh Woodrum leads the passing attack and bettors may remember former Vikings RB Matt Asiata, who had some decent work in five NFL seasons. Erickson describes the defensive front as a strength for the team.
- Arizona – Former Oklahoma and Texas A&M QB Trevor Knight brings plenty of skill passing and rushing. At WR, Josh Huff was a third-round pick for the Eagles in 2014. Inconsistent as pass catcher, he showed his explosiveness in kickoff returns for TDs of 107 and 98 yards and will now try to harness that at wideout.
Certainly betting on games with completely brand new teams isn’t easy, but no doubt many will be hoping to make those matchups a little more interesting as they take in the action. Things should shake out a bit more after Week 1 and offer bettors a bit more information on making those wagers in Week 2.
Looking for betting picks on each of these games? Be sure to visit PlayPicks.com for a deeper dive into each of these games from a wagering perspective.
Lead imavia via AAF
With the Super Bowl wrapped up, sports bettors and fans are now moving on to basketball and hockey, and gearing up for March Madness and the start of baseball season. However, a large percentage of gamblers only wager on football, and now they have another opportunity when the Alliance of American Football (AAF) debuts this weekend.
The league not only offers added games for sports betting, but it’s the on-field action that the league is hoping brings viewers and fans coming back. CEO and co-founder Charlie Ebersol talked to TheLines.com this week about the future of the league and what gamblers can expect to find.
The app and betting
Sports betting has always been part of the plan for the AAF. With a new legalized environment and more fans betting on football than ever, embracing that dynamic seemed like not only a natural move.
The league has even partnered with MGM as an investor and official gaming partner. Lines for the league’s Week 1 matchups are available on the PlayMGM app as well as its casinos. The hope is that bettors and fans will still be interested in football a week after the Super Bowl.
“We’re continuing football, which is the biggest bet in sports in the U.S. outside of horse racing, and we see it as an opportunity to expand that season,” Ebersol says. “Obviously, MGM becoming an investor early on was really crucial because it helped people understand that what we built is real: the football is all real, and the fact that all the sportsbooks have taken lines on our games.”
The Alliance hosted several sportsbook directors at its training camps last week in San Antonio.
While the league’s planned app, set to be released this week, has promised up-to-the-second stats and information, it won’t offer sports betting, per se. That information will be available to bettors and casinos alike to branch out beyond traditional betting options.
“We’re a technology business and our technology is that we built a data capture manifestation device that allows the data to get off the field instantaneously in under 400 milliseconds and delivered to users,” Ebersol says. “That’s either through a sportsbook or a mobile device, which will ultimately allow in-game betting, play-to-play betting.”
Getting in the game
Fans who download the app for Week 1 cannot only watch the games, but interact as plays happen. That includes using technology to track the action on the field as exactly as possible.
“You can turn on a cellphone or any other device, and see what’s going on in real time,” Ebersol says. “We created a fully animated version of the game. We have all these trackers on the players, the ball, et cetera. It looks like a combination of Madden meets Angry Birds, and you see exactly what’s going on in real time with the data.”
While traditional fantasy football may not be offered yet, the league is hoping fans will engage in other ways. That includes wagering and using its new PreCast (predictive casting) offering.
“PreCast uses all the historical data as well as machine learning and artificial intelligence to give you predictive odds on what each play is going to be,” he says. “So in our game, if you guessed run right for a first down and the combined likelihood of that happening is 13 percent, you win more points than if you guessed run left for two yards, which was 30 percent.”
In essence, decision making makes use of the data for odds and percentages. Users can play in large pools and against friends. Wagering looks to be a part of that in the future.
“When we showed the technology to MGM nine months ago, that is immediately where their heads were,” he says.
Certainly one of the biggest drivers of the popularity of pro football over the last two decades is fantasy football. That includes more than 60 million Americans who play fantasy sports each year, and a huge chunk of those play fantasy football.
Ebersol said those options won’t be available on the Alliance app to start the season, but hopes to have fantasy games soon.
“One of the things we discovered with our app is we had way features on day one,” he says. “We’ve cut back the features that are coming out on Saturday. You’ll be able to get the PreCast play. Over the course of the season, we’ll introduce something called In-Game Fan, where you can play fantasy play to play, which has never been available before.”
Players would challenge other players during the game as part of that offering, but the league doesn’t currently have a traditional fantasy football partner. That could change during the season or another partner brought on board next season.
“As of right now, we do not have plans to have markets up for AAF,” FanDuel spokesman Kevin Hennessy said. “That could change, but nothing is scheduled for this weekend’s kick off.”
On the field
While bettors and fantasy players may have some limited options initially, Ebersol believes football fans will be pleased with play on the field. All eight teams conducted training camps in San Antonio and went through scrimmage games over the last month. He believes solid play will help engage fans in the long run.
“One of the things we’ve held close to our chest is the football because it’s important to us that ‘football is football’ on the field on Day 1,” Ebersol says. “Ultimately, we believe as fans get more familiar with our games and more familiar with our players, we’ll be able to roll out those products like daily and season-wide fantasy.”
So what can fans expect on the field? The Alliance so far has made use of social media to build buzz. Ebersol has brought in NFL talent like Bill Polian (co-founder and head of football) to ensure the product is the best it can be on the field. In 2001, Vince McMahon’s XFL was hampered by sloppy play due to short practice periods. Ebersol believes the Alliance has figured this out.
“Unlike all previous attempts of [alternate football leagues] over the last 25 years, we’ve brought in actual football experts, actual general managers from the NFL,” he says. “The combined level of NFL experience among my executives, coaches, and GMs is over 500 years. We focused as heavily as we could in putting the highest quality at the top of the league to create better football.”
Hall of Fame cast
The league is not shying away from a link to the NFL and much of its leadership and coaching come from the NFL including league leaders like Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward as well as coaches and general managers like Mike Singletary and Daryl Johnston.
All 794 players also have an out in their contracts to play in the NFL if that opportunity comes up, something that sets them apart from previous attempts at alternate leagues and attracts a higher level of player. Ebersol also notes that 70 percent of the players in the league have played in the NFL in the last 18 months.
Viewing the AAF
Along with the ability to view on the league app, those who long for more pro football will have an easy time finding games on television. The league has deals in place with CBS and the CBS Sports Network, NFL Network, and TNT and promises shorter games with fewer commercials and a faster pace (only a 30-second game clock).
“You’re going to experience something that comes very close to the NFL experience,” he says. “Previous leagues all wanted gimmicks. What you will see on the field will be actual football broadcast by actual football broadcasters. Our broadcast teams are going to be very traditional and you’re going to see things that you’re used to seeing on Sundays, which is by design.”
Playing the long game
Ebersol says the league’s backers are patient. His goal is to gain traction with a good brand of football and then grow from there.
“One of the mistakes that the other leagues have made is that they’ve been so reliant on media deals and ticket sales out of the gate that they could never survive,” he says. “Our long-term business is funded based on the technology we’ve built. We raised money around the idea of losing a lot of money on football for quite some time because we’re going to earn our fans.
“We’re going to go into stadiums where the fans are going to sample us and if they like us they’re going to come back. What we’re focused on is how it grows over the course of the season. I’m excited. I think this weekend’s going to be very interesting to see how the world accepts us, and we’ll go from there.”
Image courtesy of AAF
The National Football League (NFL) season might be over, but the thirst for football never goes away. Sure the NFL combine and draft will satisfy the need for some but there’s no legal betting on that in the US.
Have no fear. The Alliance of American Football (AAF) season kicks off on Saturday, Feb. 9. The AAF is a new professional football league founded by producer Charlie Ebersol (son of NBC executive Dick Ebersol) and former NFL general manager Bill Polian.
They will operate the AAF as a non-NFL developmental football league. In other words, the AAF will serve as an unaffiliated minor league to the NFL. The AAF is taking a new approach to a startup football league.
They aren’t just providing teams and games and hoping for the best. In 2018 the league signed a partnership with MGM Resorts. The league and casino operator will work closely on technology, marketing, fantasy sports, and traditional gambling.
This doesn’t appear to be a fly by night league and they’re taking gambling seriously as a part of how they market the league. They even flew out members from the Westgate Superbook and other sportsbook operators to check out the games a couple weeks ago. Westgate Vice President of Sports Operations Jay Kornegay told TheLines, “The league employs coaches with solid resumes, has young talent, on national TV, and they’re very well organized.”
The SuperBook isn’t the only sportsbook operator that will take bets on AAF games. But they are the first sportsbook with AAF futures odds:
- Arizona Hotshots +250
- Salt Lake Stallions +400
- San Antonio Commanders +500
- Orlando Apollos +500
- Atlanta Legends +500
- San Diego Fleet +1000
- Memphis Express +1000
- Birmingham Iron +1000
AAF games will be easy to watch. Games can be watched on their mobile app, CBS networks, and they recently signed a deal with Turner to be on TNT and B/R Live. AAF will be the first league to offer free games to watch via B/R Live.
Most of the teams in the AAF are employing players and coaches with big names that most college football fans will be familiar with:
- Arizona Hotshots: Head coach Rick Neuheisel, QB Trevor Knight (Oklahoma)
- Atlanta Legends: Head coach Kevin Coyle (previously Brad Childress), offensive coordinator Mike Vick, QB Aaron Murray (Georgia), WR Stephen Hill (Georgia Tech)
- Birmingham Iron: Head coach Tim Lewis, QB Blake Sims (Alabama), RB Trent Richardson (Alabama), QB Scott Tolzien (Wisconsin)
- Memphis Express: Head coach Mike Singletary, QB Christian Hackenberg (Penn State), QB Zach Mettenberger (LSU)
- Orlando Apollos: Head coach Steve Spurrier
- Salt Lake Stallions: Head coach Dennis Erickson
- San Antonio Commanders: Head coach Mike Riley
- San Diego Fleet: Head coach Mike Martz, RB Bishop Sankey (Washington)
AAF is scheduling games to be played on Saturday and Sunday starting this weekend. Sportsbooks should be posting individual game lines a few days before each clash.
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