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Mon, May 20

Kobritz: Not surprisingly, another professional football league folds
BEYOND THE LINES

Sometimes, rich people do things that don’t seem very smart. But one of the perks of being rich is you don’t always have to act in a financially responsible manner. The rise and demise of the Alliance of American Football (AAF) is a perfect example.

The brainchild of Bill Polian, long-time NFL executive, and Charlie Ebersol, television and film producer and the son of Dick Ebersol, former chairman of NBC Sports, the AAF joined a graveyard teeming with the remnants of former football leagues. With less than a year of planning, woefully under financed, and a business plan best described as a wing and a prayer, the AAF was doomed before it got off the ground. The league’s end game was to become a feeder league for the NFL, but in order to do that they needed the cooperation of - wait for this - the NFL!

But as any rational person could deduce, the NFL doesn’t need the AAF. Colleges provide all the talent the league needs – for free. No smart person would stake their fortune and reputation on a league whose success required having access to NFL practice squad players most fans never heard of and don’t care about. Unless, of course, they had more money than time left to spend it and celebrity was more important than business success.

Compounding the frustration for the AAF, the NFL players association didn’t want any part of the new league either. The Collective Bargaining Agreement with the league made that impossible without renegotiating its terms, a non-starter for the NFLPA. Another major concern was the new rules adopted by the upstart league, seemingly without regard for player safety. Throw in a lack of workers compensation insurance and the AAF stood no chance of convincing the NFL to loan them players.

One week into its 10-week season, the AAF failed to pay its players, placing the blame on a “computer glitch.” The only glitch was the failure to raise sufficient capital for what would be, at best, a three-year path to financial solvency. Ebersol and Polian immediately sought an “angel” investor, settling on Tom Dundon, owner of the NHL Carolina Hurricanes. Dundon initially invested $70 million with a promise of $180 million more when needed. However, to the dismay of the league founders, coaches and players, instead of anteing up, Dundon got cold feet and pulled the plug on the league.

Anyone who thirsts for year ‘round football may yet get their wish. Two more startups are expected to debut in 2020. One is financed by Vince McMahon of WWE fame, the other is the creation of Don Yee, whose claim to fame is being Tom Brady’s agent.

McMahon’s XFL is the successor to his previous iteration that lasted one year, proving, once again, that the answer to Seeger’s question - when will they ever learn? - is never. Hope will always trump experience if one’s pockets are deep enough.

Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at jordan.kobritz@cortland.edu.

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