By Andrew Tan
To a casual sports fan, the AAF might sound like a knockoff roadside assistance provider; what the acronym actually stands for is much worse. The Alliance for American Football (AAF), which premiered with four games on Saturday, provides Americans with yet another way to feed their unhealthy addiction for violent tackling and head trauma.
Created by co-founders Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian, the AAF is inspired by the failed venture that was the XFL, a league seeking to satisfy Americans’ residual desire for football after the college football and NFL seasons. The XFL promoted the institution of fewer rules to allow for rougher play than its peer leagues and to create a different, more exciting product. The league lasted for one season in 2001.
In 2016, Ebersol, after watching a documentary on the XFL and identifying some of the flaws in its execution, set to work on forming a league that captured the essence of the XFL but with a better on-field product. Two years later, Ebersol, with the help of Polian and others, released his brainchild to the world in Saturday’s display of new football.
The birth of the AAF begs the question: Why do we need more football? The United States is already a market saturated by the sport, from Pop Warner to high school football to college football to the NFL. When college football and the NFL aren’t in season, American sports media gives us extensive coverage of the upcoming NFL draft. Then come organized team activities (OTAs), training camp, high school recruiting decisions, preseason, and then we’re back in the thick of regular season play. Some high schools, especially in football-crazy states such as Texas, have venues bigger than that of major league teams of other sports.
Now, in all fairness, American football is a very entertaining sport to watch. The sport dominates the market and boosts ratings during run time, and I am not ashamed to say that I, myself, indulge in the pastime of watching the pigskin slung around the gridiron. At a certain point though, enough is enough. My argument against the AAF does not even touch the contentious issues of violence and CTE/brain damage (though there should be a consensus that less injury and head trauma is better than more). Rather I’d like to push back against what seems like a compulsive need for people to capitalize on merchandising and to build national brands.
Simply put, football is trending toward a year-round sport based on the rooting interests of most Americans. Football will always receive the best ratings. Already in its first week, AAF viewership surpassed that of the PGA Tour and of a primetime NBA matchup between the Thunder and Rockets, while nearly equalling that of the Duke-Virginia men’s basketball game. As a fan of a wider range of sports, I fear that football will begin to dominate the media’s attention, and sports such as baseball will start to lose their network cachet.
Football already has the two most popular leagues in the United States with college football and NFL. The AAF just seems unnecessary, and it could potentially detract from other great sports. Maybe the AAF will keep football-obsessed individuals occupied until these other leagues start up again, but to fans for whom football is not their favorite sport or who do not follow football at all, the AAF is merely a cash grab that could undermine the markets for established leagues in other sports.
February to April is basketball season. Then, we have March Madness and the thick of the NBA season. I like that there are defined periods between sports. Football already has all of autumn and winter. Let other sports have their time in the sun.
Football will come again. That’s part of what makes it so exciting: you have to wait through the summer to have it back. If you had a Thanksgiving feast every week, would you enjoy it every time? No, you would just be obese. America doesn’t need to get fatter on football. Football is great, just don’t shove it down our throats.
Contact Andrew Tan at tandrew ‘at’ stanford.edu.