In case you missed it, the Alliance of American Football (AAF) decided to shut down operations this week and cancel the remainder of its inaugural season. Yep, just gonna close down shop, without Dandy Don Meredith singing that ol’ Willie Nelson song.
So what happens to futures bets for the league’s championship? Well, FanDuel Sportsbook has a happy ending to the sad story.
FanDuel declared the Orlando Apollos the 2019 AAF Champions Wednesday and will pay out all futures bets accordingly, the company said in a release. And not only bets on the Orlandos — for every futures bet placed on ANY team to win the championship.
“The AAF should be commended for trying to do something disruptive in the sports landscape, and we hope this symbolic gesture shows the players and coaches that sports fans everywhere appreciated the hard work and sacrifices they made for entertaining us with Spring Football,” said Mike Raffensperger, CMO of FanDuel Group. “While we’ve declared the Apollos honorary champions, we think the biggest winners should be our customers and hope they enjoy their payouts.”
According to FanDuel, the futures payout promotion cost the company less than $10,000.
Risky league goes awry
The AAF failed like so many spring football challengers before, unable to produce the revenue needed for the capital-heavy start-up. Despite gaining national TV deals and drawing fans in big cities, even the cash bailout from Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon couldn’t get them to the finish line.
The league had some highlights early on but couldn’t maintain interest. Fans, media, and others claim an inelastic demand for football, apparently not when it’s neither the big leagues or college.
With two weeks to go, the 7-1 Apollos proved the class of the start-up league. The company claimed if they had the power, they would name Steve Spurrier AAF Coach of the Year.
FanDuel actually took a different approach to the folding than competitors. Others, including PointsBet and the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, announced all bets would be refunded, including some that were already guaranteed to lose.
Bettors now bored?
The league sought to fill the void created once the Super Bowl ends in February. Having markets like New Jersey to offer betting was supposed to help things.
Honestly, the games didn’t draw a lot of attention in the consumer-saturated Northeast. Maybe lacking a team in one of the area’s major markets would have helped.
Fans have seen the WFL, USFL, WLAF (Mouse Davis remains an all-time football name), and others come and go. This was the first time widespread regulated betting played a factor.
We’ll see how much betting really took place when states release March revenue reports. However, overall sentiment is there wasn’t much handle overall on the AAF.
So what have the books learned? We’ll have to wait until next year when Vince McMahon re-launches the XFL.
We can’t all be winners. The Alliance of American Football found that out the hard way after traveling a long, lonesome road lined with the corpses of failed leagues of the past.
Three weeks shy of the conclusion to the league’s inaugural season, the AAF — like the USFL, XFL and United Football League, among a host of others — was served a platter of dust and took a hearty bite. Rest in peace, AAF: 2019-2019.
Eight games into its debut season, the AAF is done. League Chair Tom Dundon, who rode in on his white stallion to save the AAF from an earlier closing by committing $250 million to the league, closed his checkbook this week.
In an era when legalized sports betting continues to expand, the first example of how limited an influence regulated wagering can have certainly shines through.
Sports betting part of AAF DNA from the start
Within the first few months of AAF existence, the league landed a TV deal with CBS Sports Network and an ensuing gambling partnership with MGM.
Last fall, the league began developing an in-game wagering app that would allow viewers to watch their desired AAF game while betting on the same screen.
Charlie Ebersol, the league’s CEO and co-founder, noted in February that bringing in MGM as an investor and official gaming partner might attract viewers and bettors even after the NFL season ended. He emphasized how the AAF is “continuing football” and that “the football is all real.” He hammered that point home by adding “the fact that all the sportsbooks have taken lines on our games.”
That AAF app and data is reportedly what drew the interest of Dundon, who owns the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL. Albert Breer of The Monday Morning Quarterback tweeted Tuesday how Dundon took the reins of the AAF “simply for the gambling app being developed.” Now, as reported by Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Daily, Dundon “owns all the IP, including app and data.”
NJ sports betting jumped on board
The league started strong, to be fair. Its opening games on CBS averaged some 3.25 million viewers, outranking the ABC broadcast of an NBA showdown between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder.
After the first few games, New Jersey took notice. Football, after all, has long been the revenue-driver of betting. DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel Sportsbook, BetStars, PointsBet and playMGM all offered lines on AAF games within the NJ sports betting landscape.
What kind of impact AAF betting had has yet to be seen. What is clear, however, is there won’t be any more AAF odds. (Too soon?) “Multiple books” confirmed to ESPN that all futures wagers will be refunded to bettors.
What went wrong, AAF?
Short answer: The league made the wrong bet on the influence of legalized wagering.
Appearing on ESPN’s Outside the Lines on Tuesday, Kaplan recalled how the AAF planned to “ride the wave of gambling.”
“That’s all well and good,” he added, “but at the end of the day, when you’re starting a football league, the product has to be football. Everything else is ancillary.”
“When they started talking to me about this is a technology company … the alarm bells went off. I did a lot of reporting: They had not secured all the insurance they needed to get this league off the ground. The team in Florida, half its practices had to be in Georgia so they could be eligible for worker’s compensation in Georgia because they weren’t eligible in Florida. It was a complete mess.”
Indeed it was. Still is. After all, Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated reported that the AAF couldn’t even finance plane tickets for players to go home.
Source says AAF teams making players pay for their own flights home. What a clown show this was.
— Robert Klemko (@RobertKlemko) April 2, 2019
But sports betting is supposed to save leagues, right?
Since the US Supreme Court struck down PASPA, even well before, the majority of people believed one of two things: Legalized sports betting will be terrible for leagues, or legalized sports betting will create more fans and, thus, help leagues.
Ebersol and AAF co-founder Bill Polian clearly fell into the latter category.
In their defense (that is, a defense that is state-appointed and only to the intern because the 58 guys above him didn’t want the case), a number of studies led these two knuckleheads in that direction.
A Seton Hall University poll from earlier this year, for example, showed that 71% of respondents would be more likely to watch a game on which they wagered. Similarly, Bleacher Report conducted a study in December that showed 63% of respondents would pay more attention to games if legal sports betting existed in their respective states.
Legalized sports betting does not create fandom. It heightens it, at best. It does not save leagues. It bolsters them.
Now, Dundon walks away after investing $70 million to fund the league week-to-week. Under his arm, a $70 million app that is as useful as the AAF is now.
In what’s arguably turning into the most eventful week in the brief history of the Alliance of American Football (AAF), DraftKings Sportsbook announced Wednesday that it would begin offering lines on the league’s games immediately.
And they’re not the only ones.
MGM Resorts International, the league’s official gaming partner, posted AAF betting markets for the first time Wednesday at its New Jersey sportsbook as well. MGM had already offered point spread and over/under bets for the first two weeks of AAF games in its Las Vegas brick-and-mortar sportsbook and on the Nevada edition of its playMGM app.
Then, late Wednesday afternoon, futures odds on the league winner were posted for the first time on FanDuel Sportsbook. Kevin Hennessy, FanDuel’s Director of Publicity, informed TheLines.com via e-mail that AAF Week 3 odds will be posted closer to the weekend.
Delayed rollout of AAF betting in New Jersey
A look at the DraftKings Sportsbook app reveals the operator is already offering moneyline bets on AAF games in addition to wagers on point spreads and projected game totals. Moreover, DK is also offering futures bets on the eventual AAF champion. As per an e-mail from DK’s Brian Brown, the company has “plans to expand in the future” with respect to the type of wagers offered.
DraftKings — along with the rest of New Jersey’s sportsbooks — notably sat out the first two weeks of AAF action. That was a somewhat curious development, considering the potential of pro football betting markets.
Given the statewide moratorium, it’s evident the approval process required by the Division of Gaming Enforcement was part of the reason for delay. But Brown adds that in DK’s case, the operator was “evaluating the AAF as a potential add-in” as well.
One aspect of that vetting process could have well been tied in to oddsmakers seeking a better feel for each team. Setting lines for upstart leagues in any sport is inherently challenging. Doing so without even a week of sample size is exponentially difficult.
League’s recent financial tumult also a factor?
Moreover, in a separate e-mail response to a request for clarification of what other AAF-based betting options DK Sportsbook could eventually offer, Brown explained the company will “be keeping an eye on the state of the AAF and our users’ interaction with those bet types [that will be initially offered] to determine next steps.”
The reference to monitoring the state of the league itself particularly stands out. Even as it seems a tad cryptic, it’s with good reason. Tuesday, Darren Rovell of The Action Network relayed some rather disconcerting news that implied the league’s very future was in peril after just a week of play:
The AAF missed payroll in Week 1. They told agents that it was a glitch with switching to a new administrator. They told players would be paid by today the latest.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) February 19, 2019
Rovell’s tweet was preceded by the Athletic’s original report on the matter. That story included the news that Tom Dundon, owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, recently provided a $250 million cash infusion that kept the league afloat. The AAF just began play Feb. 9 and has two weeks’ worth of games in the books. The league features eight league-controlled teams playing a 10-week regular season, one round of playoffs and a championship game on April 27.
Subsequent statements from both Dundon and the AAF have labeled the 47-year-old billionaire’s contribution as buy-in and not bailout. Irrespective of the terminology, Dundon characterizes the new money as capable of keeping the league “viable for years and years to come”, which is the more salient point.
More AAF New Jersey sportsbook dominos likely to fall
With DraftKings, FanDuel and MGM now offering odds on the league, the assumption is that the likes of 888 Sportsbook and BetStars NJ will soon follow suit (UPDATE: BetStars NJ is offering AAF wagers on point spreads, moneylines and projected totals as of Thursday morning).
Garden State precedent seemingly dictates that AAF betting is likely to be offered on a statewide basis in fairly short order. To date, New Jersey sportsbooks have essentially mirrored each other when it comes to the betting markets offered.
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