AAF, XFL and Springing A League

Months after Vince McMahon announced a revamp and return of the XFL -as a spring league featuring simplified rules, and quicker game times, 8 teams, a 10 week regular season, and an unerring focus on giving the fans exactly what they want- Charlie Ebersol has announced the creation of the AAF -a spring league featuring simplified rules, and quicker game times, 8 teams, a 10 week regular season, and an unerring focus on giving the fans exactly what they want.

The AAF, so far as we know right now, will distinguish itself in two meaningful ways.

#1. It will be a complement to the NFL

#2. It will commence in February of 2019. At least a full year before the XFL is set to launch.

Given all this information it has to be wondered if the whole point of the AAF is either to eat up the limited supply of talent that will be available to the XFL -thereby neutralizing their potential as a rival to the NFL, to take away the television contracts that might have gone to the XFL -thereby neutralizing their potential as a rival to the NFL; or both.

Or, maybe the AAF has simply identified a market demand and is trying to fill it.

If it is the former it is a brilliant move; it will be as though Blockbuster had caught wind of the Netflix strategy and started a movie mailing service long before anyone had ever seen those little red envelopes. Better than that, the league would not have to survive to be a success, it would merely have to ensure that the XFL doesn’t survive either. In fact, from the point of view of the NFL, mutual assured destruction might be a far better option than mere dominance of the spring market.

If it is the latter there will be a steeper hill to climb. And, assuming that is the goal, I think it is best to view the league through the advantages and disadvantages it will have against the XFL.

ADVANTAGES

Starting a year earlier

With a whole year’s head start the AAF will be able to build it’s brand, develop its following and render the XFL to a position of, distant, second place. It will also be able to secure advertisers and television networks for broadcast. It will consume the scarce resources that the XFL will desperately need to survive the lean years.

Working with the NFL

This will give the AAF a large advantage in scoring up and coming talent. The share of the labor pool is going to be huge if it is assumed that playing for the AAF is the surest pathway to a career in the NFL. This will be especially appealing to college players that would prefer not to spend -what may be the best years of careers- playing for bragging rights and a less than useful degree, but are hesitant to throw in with a largely unknown quantity like the XFL 2.0.

Legitimacy

Whether it is fair or not the XFL is going to be treated like a joke by the press. It will be marginalized, lampooned, and vilified. The AAF, on the other hand, will be afforded respect, thoughtful essays and more good will than bad. Multiply all that by a thousand if the two leagues become yet another front in the culture wars; a possibility I loathe to think about, but which seems pretty likely.

DISADVANTAGES

Starting a year early

A major issue with these start up leagues is the quality of play. The original XFL suffered mightily because there was no time to develop players, teams or a quality product. The AAF, if it is helped by the NFL, may be able to mitigate some of the issues associated with launching prematurely, but it will still be a long learning process that will do more harm than good, add to that the fact that for every mistake the AAF makes the XFL will be standing by making notes and tweaking their own formula accordingly.

Essentially being a minor league

Whether we deserve to be one or not I want Birmingham to be a major league football city. The NFL will never come here for two reasons. One: they believe the potential market has already been overly splintered by enthusiasm for Auburn/Alabama; Two: we are a small market -that, unlike New Orleans, is not the key to a backroom congressional deal ensuring the NFL’s survival.
All the same I’m not going to waste my time or money on a second banana league feeding a bloated corporate ogre that doesn’t think my town is good enough for the flagship product. We are in the middle of SEC country, we don’t need that kind of nonsense here.
The XFL is promising a product that will be, in the long run, every bit as good as the NFL. They might not be able to deliver, but I’m going to support that dream over the other one -even if Birmingham is not one of the first eight cities chosen to represent it.
Of course that calculus changes if the AAF strives to put out a product every bit as good as the NFL’s . . .but , given the limited amount of quality labor available, you cannot do that without directly competing for it . . .which means they could not exist as compliments for the NFL, but rather substitutes.

NFL Fatigue

For whatever reasons people are tired of the NFL. When people are tired of a product you don’t fire them up a lesser version of the thing they’ve grown cold towards.

The enthusiasm gap

Although anecdotal, I cannot help but notice that what enthusiasm I see for the AAF -on social media- is all top down and rather anemic. The enthusiasm I see for the XFL is grass roots and massive. The AAF is building a product, the XFL is building a community.
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