SNYDER: Ready for a year-round, bottomless buffet of football?
First, an admission.
My father isn’t a legendary figure in sports broadcasting history. I didn’t build a Hall of Fame career as an NFL general manager or a Super Bowl champion. I have no stake in any Silicon Valley investment firms.
Nonetheless, I think we need another football league like cable TV needs another channel.
Others, like folks in the aforementioned categories, disagree.
Three fledgling enterprises are now on the clock, including the Alliance of American Football, announced Tuesday. It joins the upcoming revival of Vince McMahon’s XFL, and a new development league being started by agent Don Yee, who represents New England QB Tom Brady.
The AAF, which plans to start playing a week after Super Bowl 53 next February, is helmed by television and movie producer Charlie Ebersol, and longtime NFL executive Bill Polian. Former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is among the former NFL players involved (Hines Ward and Justin Tuck are others).
Deep-pocket investors like Peter Thiel and Peter Chernin have put their money behind the AAF, which already has a broadcast deal with CBS and CBS Sports Network. Other games will be available on the AAF app, and perhaps additional streaming partners, bringing Hank Williams’ Monday Night Football ditty to mind, with a slight edit:
“Are you ready for some (more) football?!”
Count me out.
I’m already oversaturated with the glut of NFL and NCAA games from September to January, seemingly aired every day of the week and thrice on Sundays. There’s already plenty of less-than-compelling product to consume, familiar brands in easily recognized packaging.
When I choose to pass on the Cleveland Browns, I’m unlikely to spend that precious free time on an unknown commodity like the Cleveland Whatevers.
Granted, the Whatevers could be really good at football. They might be better than the Browns. It’s certainly not out of the question. Ebersol is determined to sign high-quality talent for the eight-team AAF and we know some exists outside the NFL.
“There are 28,000 Division I football players,” he said via ESPN. “Only 1,700 have NFL jobs. We’re looking for those Kurt Warners working in grocery stores, and we think we will find them.”
And those Kurt Warners will jump to the NFL at the first opportunity.
Great. I’ll wait for them to get there.
Look, this isn’t to suggest that the AAF, XFL or Yee’s Pacific Pro Football are doomed. Their success or failure will be based on a number factors besides the public’s appetite for more football.
I’m no business expert. But if initial funding during startup is sufficient and, eventually, operating expenses aren’t too high and revenue streams aren’t too low, then these minor leagues might have a future.
We should note that Pacific Pro has a distinctly different approach compared to the AAF and XFL. Yee’s venture aims to be an alternative to college for players less than four years out of high school.
“Most other leagues usually took players who were deemed not good enough for the NFL,” Yee said via The New York Times. “We’re now trying to get to the head of the line at the buffet instead of getting the picked-over ones.”
I appreciate a company that will employ high school grads right away whether as actors, musicians or athletes letting them begin adulthood with paychecks if that’s their preferred route. (It happens all the time in tennis, golf, hockey and baseball, but I digress.) The NBA’s G-League will soon make such transitions more common for basketball players, and it makes sense for football players to have a similar pro option.
Understand that this discussion would be incomplete without acknowledging growing concerns about football’s suitability and viability, considering research on concussions, CTE and debilitating injuries associated with the sport.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that side effects are among the reasons for declining interest. TV ratings aren’t what they used to be. A group of states has moved to ban tackle football for youth players. A report last summer by the National Federation of State High School Associations showed startling participation dips for football in the Midwest and Northeast.
However, that just means most players will continue to hail from hotbeds like Florida, Texas, California, Georgia and Louisiana. I think minor-league salaries in the, say, very low six-figures will be enough to keep the pipeline flowing for at least a couple more generations.
The goal for the AAF, XFL and PPF is simple. They must draw enough interest through attendance, TV viewership and digital offerings to turn a profit, not become a multi-billion-dollar behemoth like the NFL.
Best wishes to everyone involved.
No offense, but I’ll take a look when y’all reach the big leagues.
Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.