The ongoing financial saga of the Alliance of American Football (AAF) Spring league has apparently reached another “boiling point” with the league’s new owner apparently threatening to pull the plug without completing the first season, as soon as Tuesday.
This is because, new owner / chairman of the board and Carolina Hurricanes hockey boss Thomas Dundon, is continuing to make public statements that the league may be ceasing operations.
Dundon told Sports Business Journal on Monday afternoon that the AAF, comprised of eight franchises including one in Orlando, could cease operation, as soon as today. His continued recent stated reason is: there is no long-term agreement with the NFL and it’s Players Association about funneling talent to the Spring league. Dundon contends that this is essential for the league to have access to the best players in the off-season.
Orlando Apollos coach, and former legendary Florida Gator Steve Spurrier, downplayed that report Monday night telling Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel that his understanding is the league will finish this season, including the postseason and then assess the future after April:
Orlando Apollos Head Coach #SteveSpurrier refuses to believe report #AAF could fold by Tuesday. Then again, it's not like AAF leadership actually communicates with its employees. Here's my story after talking to the HBC: https://t.co/6RVqK2nZyy@TheAAF @aafAPOLLOS @dkaplanSBJ pic.twitter.com/64gx7riatb
— Mike Bianchi (@BianchiWrites) April 2, 2019
“I think we’re definitely good to finish out this year,” Spurrier told the Orlando Sentinel Monday evening. “But after that, who knows? We’re not thinking about anything but trying to win a championship. That was our goal and we’re sticking to it.”
Orlando is the premier team in the AAF, so far, in the regular season at 7 – 1. And, they have already locked up one of the four semifinal playoff spots.
However Spurrier, his team and the other seven franchises have to be anxiously watching and reading what their new Chairman of the Board of Directors continues to say publicly.
Dundon, who bought the NHL Hurricanes in January of 2018, worked out a deal with the upstart Spring league to take over as its Chairman in February. At that time, he infused the league with immediate capital and also laid out a plan to give the AAF more money over the course for the next couple of seasons, depending on certain benchmarks.
One of those benchmarks was obviously to obtain agreement with the NFL/NFLPA about being their developmental pipeline through off-season football.
That obviously has not happened to this point. And it is clearly part of Dundon’s motivation to continue to speak out while the AAF still has games to be played and televised. This includes, deals on the NFL Network and on CBS, a league television partner for NFL.
A source previously told F.F.I., that Dundon’s involvement had not only assured that the AAF would exist to the end of this season, but also through at least 2020. And further, that source said recently, if Dundon is not wanting to put forward the money that he pledged to the AAF in this deal, then the AAF could move forward with one of a couple of other investors that were negotiating and willing to step up back in February.
That’s when the AAF took Dundon’s deal/pledge and allowed him to take over.
For now, the teams, players and fans of the AAF must continue to wait to see what will be done in the short-term or in the coming next few weeks.
Darren Rovell, business insider of the Action Network, reported early Tuesday afternoon that the league would “suspend operations,” for now:
Sources: The AAF will suspend all football operations today. New owner Tom Dundon will lose approximately $70 million on his investment. Dundon makes decision against wishes of league co-founders Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) April 2, 2019
It’s unclear if Ebersol or Polian, whom Rovell mentions in his tweet, will seek another immediate investor to finish the year.
For now, The Orlando Apollos would likely be declared league champs (not that it means much) or if an investor or investors could be found, the AAF could still hold it’s four team playoff in two weeks, as well.
The Alliance is scheduled to have semifinal games on April 20th and then, play their championship game on Saturday night April 27th at the Dallas Cowboys practice facility known as “The Star” in Frisco, Texas.
Time for concern after XFL TV ratings declined again last week?
For the second consecutive week, the XFL televison ratings continued to slide in the wrong direction. And, the troubling part is that if the trend continues, the XFL will have no leverage for sponsors and revenue to keep it going long term.
First, here are the specifics on the bad viewership news: According to Showbuzzdaily.com all four XFL broadcasts last Saturday and Sunday afternoon had lower ratings in their slot than the previous week.
That includes the Tampa Bay Vipers home debut against Houston, which was the early game on ABC Saturday. And, while that window had 400,000 less viewers than week 2, the bigger concern is ABC has lost almost 40% of the audience from the 3.3 million average that watched their Week one debut game on Saturday afternoon.
The ratings downward trend is following the same pattern as last Spring’s Alliance of American Football, where the ratings dwindled to under a million fans for broadcasts by week five and eventually the league shut down after just eight weeks. This was in part because of concerns on how the AAF could make any revenue, through television in specific, if they had very little audience for the end of year one and to sell off of for year two.
Now, WWE owner Vince McMahon, who folded the XFL the first time in 2001 in large part because the television audience plummeted over the course of the first month or so of its existence and never recovered, has the same issue in 2020.
And, as we wrote previously, this audience decline while negative is far less McMahon’s original XFL and it’s first season of 2001. That’s when, it debuted on its first Saturday night on NBC with a massive 10.1 rating, which translated 18 years ago to more than 9.5 viewers on network TV. A Smashing success.
However, the XFL’s ratings plummeted starting the following week and had fewer than 25% of that opening night audience just a month later with the games still being shown on a Saturday night coveted slot on NBC. It doomed the league from a P.R. and sponsor standpoint and McMahon pulled the plug.
Now, in 2020, McMahon reportedly has money to burn and is apparently prepared to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in year one. So, even if the XFL TV ratings continue come down significantly, it will not spell the end of the XFL (like it did nearly 20 years ago) after just a single season.
At least, that’s what we think.
Vipers better but drop third straight game in home opener
Although their play was improved offensively, in the end it wasn’t enough for the Tampa Bay Vipers after they dropped their third straight XFL game to start the season 34 – 27 to Houston Saturday afternoon in Tampa.
Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, as Houston scored early in the fourth quarter to go up by seven and held off the Viper the rest of the way.
The Vipers offense came to life after they had failed to score in the offensive touchdown in either of their first two games. Both of which were losses on the road. Quarterback Taylor Cornelius, subbing for starter Aaron Murray who missed his second straight game with an injured foot, once again had modest numbers 16-31 for 193 yards 1 TD, 1 INT.
However, he did pull the game even at 18 – 18 at the half after scoring on a one yard QB sneak and Tampa Bay got the two-point conversion.
Still, the former Oklahoma State quarterbacks day was inconsistent and the home crowd at Raymond James Stadium began to chant the name “Flowers, Flowers” for former USF Star Quarterback Quinton Flowers, who played sparingly for the third straight game in a reserve role.
Flowers got Tampa Bay’s first offensive TD on the young season with a seven yard run in the first quarter, but only played QB sparingly in the game, again. He was just 4-6 for 57 yards passing with 29 yards on six attempts on the ground.
Meanwhile, the former Temple star Walker found receiver Cam Phillips for the third of their three touchdown hookups from 17 yards out to give Houston a 34 – 27 lead with just over 10 minutes to play. Phillips devastated Jerry Glanville’s Vipers defense for 194 yards receiving on eight catches with the three TDs.
The Vipers look like they were going to have a chance to re-tie the game when Cornelius (above) completed a pass to his top target on the day, Jaylen Tolliver, at the two-yard line. However just like a week ago in Seattle when a critical fourth quarter drive stalled and Tampa Bay came away with no points in a 17 – 9 lost the Dragons, the Vipers got no points after Cornelius threw incomplete on second, third and fourth downs.
Many in the crowd and observers in the media were curious, as to why coach Marc Trestman didn’t go to Flowers as the dual threat running QB to at least try something different on one of those plays? Flowers even questioned why he did not play more after the game to the media.
The Vipers got the ball one final time, but Cornelius was picked off near midfield with just over a minute left to seal the defeat.
The Vipers played the first spring professional football game in Tampa, since the closing of the USFL 1985 season. That’s when Steve Spurrier’s Tampa Bay Bandits were a popular item at Old Tampa Stadium. Saturday’s home opener drew and announced crowd of 18,117.
However it’s little consolation for former Bears and CFL coach Trestman and his team, as they remain winless on the season. The L.A. Wildcats playing Sunday are the other 0-2 team in the league, currently.
And, you have to wonder whether Trestman will be forced to go to Flowers for the start when they host the D.C. Defenders next week.