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Orlando gets set for latest Spring franchise with AAF debut Saturday

Florida Football Insiders

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

History will be made Saturday night at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, as another Spring football league begins play. And, it’s something that residents in Central Florida have seen not only recently, but over the course of the last 40 years ,when it comes to off-season minor league football.

The Orlando Apollos, led by former Gators legend and coach Steve Spurrier, will take the field in the inaugural weekend of the Alliance of American Football games. The Apollos will host the Atlanta Legends in both team’s first-ever match-up.

As we wrote last week, the Apollo’s finalized their roster and there are several recognizable names including some with Florida ties. However, the biggest name for the draw is Spurrier and obviously his  “Fun and gun” brand of offensive football made famous in Gainesville will  try to entice fans to come and watch.

And, here’s a quick history lesson on why the AAF chose O-town, where they are all too familiar with seeing this before:

Orlando had a franchise in the one-year, ill-fated XFL back in 2001. That was a league led by WWE Wrestling owner Vince McMahon, and was long on hype and wrestling bravado, but way shallow on football, TV ratings and most of all, money. The “Rage” were coached by another former Gators boss, Galen Hall, and actually made the XFL’s only playoffs.

The XFL ceased after the playing of that one season.

McMahon hopes to revive the XFL in 2020, but for now, it’s been completely “beaten to the body slam” by the AAF, who’s already playing, now. More on that point, shortly.

Previous to the XFL, Orlando had a franchise in the early 1990s in the now defunct “NFL Europe” Spring minor league. That League split between teams playing in cities overseas like London, Barcelona and Berlin with teams playing in the United States, as well. The “Orlando Thunder” only lasted XXX

Long time residents will remember the 1980s and the “Orlando Renegades” of the USFL Spring league that were coached by the now well-known ESPN college football commentator, Lee Corso. While they did not have the on-field success or notoriety that Spurrier did with the Tampa Bay Bandits across I-4 in the same time frame, there was still some interest in that franchise.

And to go in the “Way-back machine,” in 1974 Orlando also had an entry in the Spring “World Football League” or WFL.

The “Florida Blazer”s played at the old Citrus Bowl for that season. They were coached by longtime NFL and eventually USFL head coach Jack Pardee. However, much like the XFL would disintegrate quickly decades later. The WFL was marred from the beginning by financial problems. The team moved from Orlando to San Antonio in 1975 and the league ceased after that season.

And that brings us back to Saturday night, where the AAF is trying this again, and they are vowing to have learned from the XFL mistakes of over 15 years ago. The AAF impressively secured a national television deal with CBS, which will be showing the debut games this Saturday night, as well as the Championship game in 10 weeks.

CBS Sports Network cable will also show the game of the week, as will the NFL Network and Turner’s TNT Sports. Those last networks just came aboard a week ago after watching the AAF’s training camp and preseason scrimmages in San Antonio.

The AAF is also being run by former Colts President and GM, Bill Polian and in consultation with numerous former NFL players like: Justin Tuck and Troy Polamalu at the league level.

And, they have numerous former players and NFL coaches (like Mike Martz, Moose Johnston, Dennis Erickson and Mike Singletary) in GM or coaching roles, like Spurrier, too.

So clearly, the AAF has franchises ready to play, with deals with television networks.

Now, the question becomes: how much interest will there be in TV viewers and also fan attendance in places like Orlando, San Antonio, Salt Lake City and Memphis?

It all begins anew, again, in Orlando Saturday.

This time, with Spurrier at the helm of the Orlando team in what has become a tradition of central Florida Spring Football experiments.

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Time for concern after XFL TV ratings declined again last week?

Florida Football Insiders

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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Vipers better but drop third straight game in home opener

Florida Football Insiders

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Mary Holt- USA Today Sports

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.

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