Perspectives: Opinions from our network of advisors, investors, operators and analysts on the risks and opportunities they see.
Just weeks after kicking off its inaugural season, the Alliance of American Football , a new professional football league backed by VCs like Founders Fund and Slow Ventures, found itself in need of financial assistance. Enter a $250 million commitment from Tom Dundon, founder of Dundon Capital Partners and owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes.
As expected, the new league and its financial state has the industry talking. In this interview, Karma Producer Chris Scali speaks with Ralph Greene, co-founder of the marketing agency We Are 3 and the American Flag Football League’s former director of player personnel. Greene provides his outlook on the future of the AAF and discusses where he sees potential success and failure in the league’s business model.
Other independent leagues have not secured mainstream success., but Greene believes that if the AAF continues to play at high level and snag former NFL and college star recruits, it could become the new “Spring NFL.”
Chris Scali: Is the AAF getting attention purely because it's a VC-backed football league and that's unusual, or does it actually have an interesting, tangible business model that could create a legitimate competitor to something as mainstream as the NFL?
Ralph Greene: I think the AAF is in a unique position through a combination of things. It landed a great network deal right from the beginning. The infrastructure and staff that run the league are experienced and highly skilled individuals within the football world, and they have the luxury of timing. They’ve seen what has and what hasn’t worked in the past when it comes to developmental and alternative football leagues.
I don’t think they ever set out to compete head-to-head with the NFL. The NFL is too big and powerful now to do that. But there is a space and opportunity for a high-quality and efficiently run professional football league in the spring. As the viewing numbers show, America loves its football. And that will never change. The AAF knows that and they plan to capitalize on that opportunity.
Chris Scali: What sets the AAF apart from other professional football leagues? What do you see as their strengths and weaknesses in comparison?
Greene: The two biggest competitive advantages that the AAF has are its timing and its staff.
Charlie Ebersol (co-founder of the AAF) has been around the NFL and its growth within the broadcast booth since the beginning of time because of his father (Dick Ebersol). The AAF brass that runs the league were also some of the NFL’s sharpest minds at one point. With guidance from trailblazers such as (Bill) Polian and (J.K.) McKay, they’ll be able to avoid the hiccups and mishaps that happen when first starting a league.
They’ve done a great job creating engaging content and marketing the league with well-known players. The biggest challenge for them will be to keep the play at a high and competitive level. At the end of the day, these guys aren’t in the NFL for a reason. That's not to say that they can’t play, but the consistency of their play might not always be on par with some of the NFL players, which is what fans are used to watching.
Chris Scali: AAF ratings climbed for Week 3 on The NFL Network. Do you think ratings will continue to have a steady increase? Could recruitment of past NFL stars be a factor?
Greene: People will always watch football, regardless of the time of year. So, while these numbers might not beat out the NFL’s numbers on a Sunday in the fall, I do believe that the AAF will continue to see an increase in viewership as their spring season goes on. The recruitment of former NFL and college stars has a huge factor on their numbers.
But a large part of that has to be accredited to their marketing department. They’ve created content that grabs the consumer’s attention through nostalgia of seeing their once-loved, favorite college player. Guys like Trent Richardson, Zach Mettenberger, Johnny Manziel. These players had a large following in college, and a once promising NFL future. Fans can reconnect with a player because it takes them back to a specific time and moment when they were great
The AAF isn’t the first league to employ former NFL and college stars. The AAF just found a way to communicate that fact to their audience better than any league before it.
Chris Scali: What challenges do you expect the AAF to encounter in the rest of the season and beyond?
Greene: A lot depends on the outcome of this season. As long as the play continues to be at a high level and they continue to provide fans with quality content, then I don’t see why this can’t be the spring’s version of the NFL.
There is a desire and need for a developmental league or a farm system for the NFL. If this runs efficiently enough, and if it's truly the direction that the AAF wants to take this league, then I believe it will continue to grow.