Tuesday, April 2, 2019
Updated: April 3, 10:15 AM ET
After eight weeks of games and less than one season into Alliance of American Football’s existence, league owner Tom Dundon has decided to suspend all operations, league co-founder Bill Polian confirmed to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen on Tuesday.
“I am extremely disappointed to learn Tom Dundon has decided to suspend all football operations of the Alliance of American Football,” Polian said in a statement Tuesday. “When Mr. Dundon took over, it was the belief of my co-founder, Charlie Ebersol, and myself that we would finish the season, pay our creditors, and make the necessary adjustments to move forward in a manner that made economic sense for all.
“The momentum generated by our players, coaches and football staff had us well positioned for future success. Regrettably, we will not have that opportunity.”
The league had been struggling from the outset. After the first week of the season, Dundon — owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes — pledged a $250 million investment and essentially took command of the AAF.
The league shot down reports that it needed the money to stay afloat. Instead, sources told ESPN at the time that there was an issue with the payroll company the league was using.
“I sincerely regret that many that believed in this project will see their hopes and efforts unrewarded,” Polian said in his statement Tuesday. “They gave their best for which I am deeply grateful. Unfortunately, Mr. Dundon has elected this course of action.”
Employees were notified of the decision in a letter from the AAF board on Tuesday afternoon, according to The Associated Press.
The letter, obtained by The Associated Press, gave no reason for ending the inaugural season, only that the decision was made “after careful consideration.” It also said a small staff would remain to seek new investment capital and “restructure our business. Should those efforts prove successful, we look forward to working with many of you on season two.”
Players are being forced to pay for their own travel back home, a source told ESPN, confirming an SI.com report.
Despite a litany of issues, ratings had remained fairly consistent for the league, with between 400,000 and 500,000 viewers often tuning in for games, according to ratings reports. And the league got a bump in attention after Johnny Manziel signed last month and was allocated to Memphis.
Manziel offered some advice to AAF players on Twitter with Tuesday’s news.
The league signed all players to three-year, non-guaranteed contracts worth $70,000 in the first year, $80,000 in the second year and $100,000 in the third year. The hope, Polian said, was that the league would send players to the NFL.
In his statement Tuesday, Polian said he’ll do “all I can” to help the league’s players achieve that.
“My thanks go out to all who made our football product so competitive and professional,” Polian said. “I am certain there are many among them destined for future success in the NFL and I look forward to doing all I can to help them in their quest.”
Ebersol told ESPN in January that they had structured the league around a “sober business plan” because he believed he had learned lessons from his father, Dick Ebersol, who helped run the first version of the XFL.
Problems, however, popped up surrounding the nascent league that was trying to be a complement to the NFL.
Due to insurance issues, the Orlando Apollos had to move their practices three hours away to Kingsland, Georgia.
Orlando coach Steve Spurrier, whose team leads the league with a 7-1 record, told reporters Tuesday that it was “sad to end this way.”
“We’re all disappointed, but on the other side, we got to be the champs, right?” Spurrier told reporters. “We’re 7-1 and the next teams are 5-3. Some of us didn’t get into the Alliance to advance our careers, but the players … I’m more disappointed for all the players that believe, ‘This is my chance to show people this, that and the other that I can play this game.’
“And a lot of them will get opportunities. They’ve shown enough.”
As for his future, Spurrier said to The State: “If I never coach again, I went out a winner. … But for the players and the assistant coaches, it’s a bummer.”
Additionally, the league and Charlie Ebersol were sued by Robert Vanech, with Vanech claiming Ebersol cut him out of the idea for the league and then denied him credit. As part of the civil suit, Vanech released a document that appeared to be a business plan for the league — including wanting to approach Vince McMahon for usage of the XFL name.
Instead, McMahon decided to restart his own league; it is scheduled to launch next year.
The AAF last month also moved its title game from Las Vegas to Frisco, Texas. UNLV, which owns Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, told ESPN after a public records request, “There was no signed agreement between UNLV and the Alliance of American Football/Legendary Field Exhibitions, LLC.” The game was expected to be played there, though, as Sam Boyd Stadium had been selling tickets on its website as late as the day it was announced the game would be moving.
Even back in training camp, the league wouldn’t allow independent reporters to view preseason games in San Antonio.
The AAF also had intriguing rule changes, including a mic’d-up replay official and eliminating kickoffs and extra points. The AAF eliminated the onside kick and instead created a fourth-and-12 scenario in which if a team converted, it would keep the ball. A variation of it was proposed during last week’s NFL owners meetings but did not get approved.
Over the past two weeks, though, reports surfaced of the league trying to work with the NFL Players Association on allowing practice squad players with futures contracts to participate in the AAF. Dundon had told USA Today last week that if the league was unable to work out an agreement with the NFLPA to share players, options then would include “discontinuing the league.”
The league’s on-field officials have only been told that play is off for Week 9, with Week 10 still to be determined, according to an email obtained by ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss. The email alerts officials that they should be expected to be paid for Weeks 7 and 8, while travel fees for Weeks 9 and 10 are being “worked on.”
One of the more attractive things about the league was the technology it developed with its app. It allowed for faster real-time technology to reach consumers and also tracked multiple biometric data points. The hope was that other leagues would see the technology and express interest in using it.
“I think what we’re building on the tech side will change sports,” Ebersol said in January. “If this company has a chance to survive, if the football is good enough that this has a runway where people are engaged, it will change sports.”
At the time, Ebersol said he viewed his business as “a tech company that owns a football league.”
Sportsbooks across the United States took down odds to win the AAF title game after hearing of the announcement.
Multiple books confirmed to ESPN that they will refund all wagers on futures bets, including those on the Memphis Express and Atlanta Legends — teams that had already been eliminated from postseason contention.
The Orlando Apollos were -110 favorites to win the AAF title at the SuperBook at the Westgate Las Vegas before odds were taken down Tuesday.
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, Josh Weinfuss, Ben Fawkes and The Associated Press contributed to this report.