The Alliance of American Football debuted over the weekend, and co-Founder Bill Polian said he thinks it can be the "training ground for the NFL." Polian: "We would like to be firmly entrenched five or 10 years from now and have the NFL say to us, ‘Here's the practice squad, guys. Get them ready to play. Here are the young coaches, particularly minorities, that we think have a chance to be good, train them.’" He said the on-field product will "take care of itself," and the league has to "give the fans that are watching at home ... a good show and a good reason to tune in again." Former NFLer Hines Ward, who is serving as the AAF's Head of Football Development, said it wants to be a "complementary league to the NFL." Ward: "Having a developmental league only makes the NFL that much better because they have a different pool they can pull from" (“Alliance All Access,” CBS, 2/9).
STRONG START: AAF co-Founder & CEO Charlie Ebersol said attendance for the league's debut games in San Antonio and Orlando were "way above expectations.” In San Antonio, Greg Luca noted the San Antonio Commanders were "greeted by 27,857 fans" on Saturday for their 15-6 win over the San Diego Fleet at the Alamodome. Ebersol said that the league’s app, "despite a few technical glitches, was No. 2 in the Apple store and No. 1 in the Google Play store" on Saturday. Commanders President Vic Gregovits said that he noticed an "almost unanimously positive reaction on social media and has fielded hundreds of inquiries regarding season tickets" (SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, 2/10). Meanwhile, an announced crowd of 20,191 showed up for the AAF opener between the Orlando Apollos and Atlanta Legends at Spectrum Stadium. There is a "local feel to the Apollos," as the 52-man roster features 29 players "from nine Florida colleges" (AP, 2/10). In Orlando, Brian Murphy wrote it was "certainly an entertaining first impression on the AAF’s opening night." Apollos QB Garrett Gilbert said that he "received nothing but positive feedback after the game about this new brand of football, which featured a shortened play clock, fewer TV timeouts, no kickoffs or extra-point kicks, and chances to hear the coaches call plays in real time" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 2/10).
MORE TO COME: Ebersol said that he has "staked the success of the Alliance not on hype or a marketing push, but on the ability to field a strong product that will grow fan interest over time." Polian said that the "only thing the league is missing relative to the NFL is superstars," as 81% of its players have signed NFL contracts. Polian: "We’d like people to come away ... at the end of the game and say, ‘You know what? That was entertaining, competitive professional football.’ That’s the definition" (SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, 2/9). Polian also sat with the BUFFALO NEWS' Vic Carucci for a Q&A ahead of the league's debut weekend. PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Michael David Smith wrote the debut games were "pretty good." The football was "fun and fast-paced," with "new innovations like transparency on instant replay that might translate well to the NFL." CBS' TV production was also "well done." The AAF will "obviously have to grow its fan base, but the fans it has now seem enthusiastic." Neither game on Saturday was "particularly close or competitive," but overall it was a "solid start" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 2/10). In N.Y., Joe Drape wrote Ebersol is "bullish on his chances to beat the market." He "argues that timing and technology are on his side." He "intends to fill a post-Super Bowl vacuum." The league is "working to make its games easy to find," signing deals for games to air on the NFL Network, CBS Sports, TNT and Turner’s B/R Live. The league has also "invested heavily in the technology and platforms that can provide data in a blink of an eye" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/9).
EYE TEST: ESPN's Mike Golic said the actual football product over the weekend was "pretty good" and "set the table well for everybody's interest." But Mike Golic Jr. cautioned that "having dignity and legitimacy in a league that is not the NFL is a difficult thing to come by." Golic Jr. "I don't think it even needed to be good, you just needed it to not be bad." NFL Network's Shaun O'Hara: "Timing is everything with this. ... It was a great weekend to start up football as everybody is still recovering from the Super Bowl." O'Hara also called the pace of the games "refreshing." He said, "The fact that they're trying to get a football game in and out in two-and-half hours is great and as a fan, you didn't feel like there were a lot of lulls" ("Golic & Wingo, ESPN Radio, 2/11).
WORKING TOGETHER? PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio noted early this year the relationship between the AAF and the NFL "began to gradually expand." But NFL VP/Communications Brian McCarthy said there is "no investment" from his league as of yet. He added, "It’s a programming partnership.” Florio wrote the NFL "sees a clear benefit in broadcasting 19 AAF games this season." If the startup league "thrives, the ties could deepen and, ultimately, the NFL could end up absorbing the AAF and making it an official arm of the National Football League" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 2/9).
MEDIA MONITOR: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had no mention of the AAF in its print versions on Sunday, with little mention of the Legends’ opening game online as well. In the Orlando Sentinel, the Apollos were the featured story on the front of the sports section in print Sunday, as well as online. In Birmingham, the Iron today were the main featured story on the top of AL.com, with multiple stories covering the team’s first game. Meanwhile, the Memphis Commercial-Appeal featured the Express prominently online, and had the game story at the bottom of the front page of the sports section. The San Antonio Express-News featured the Commanders on its main website, and created a prominently placed Commanders section on its sports page. The San Diego Union-Tribune, however, did not feature the Fleet prominently online, though the game story was at the bottom of the front page of the sports section in print. In Arizona, the Hotshots were the featured story on the Arizona Republic’s sports page, with a footnote mention on the front-page itself. Meanwhile, the Salt Lake Stallions were among the featured stories on the online sports section of the Salt Lake Tribune (THE DAILY).