Remember when I said the NFL and Alliance of American Football might be ready to take things to the next level?
Now I’m starting to wonder if they’re actually engaged.
On Wednesday the league announced that it was moving its inaugural championship game – set for Saturday, April 27 – from Las Vegas to Frisco, Texas. Now, you might think the banner headline is abandoning 40,000 Sam Boyd Stadium for the indoor, 12,000-seat Ford Center.
It doesn’t take much digging to learn that’s just a subplot to the much bigger story, however.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones also owns the Ford Center, and his statement about hosting the game on April 27 – the final day of the 2019 NFL Draft – was rather telling.
“The Alliance has built a foundation of high-quality football, revolutionary technology and world-class partnerships with the NFL, CBS and Turner Sports,” Jones said. “It was only natural that we at the Cowboys organization would want to join that great group of partners. I have always believed that our great game of football could use a league to give players the shot they needed to make it to the NFL, and (AAF co-founder and head of football) Bill Polian, (AAF chairman) Tom Dundon and (AAF co-founder) Charlie Ebersol have done just that.
“We are proud to be able to host their inaugural championship game.”
But Dundon, the guy who owns the NHL Carolina Hurricanes and who invested $250 million in the Alliance last month, made the arrangement even more clear.
“Since joining The Alliance, I’ve ignited a mission to accelerate the growth of our league in its next phase as a complementary developmental league for the NFL and its players,” Dundon said. “Our commitment to the three Alliance stars, the fans, players, and the game, were at the forefront of our decision to move the game to this magnificent facility.”
From a television standpoint, this means the game will “look” better to viewers at home because surely 12,000 people will show up to watch.
Alliance officials can then say their first championship game was a hard sellout.
On the other hand it’s bad for fans of the San Antonio Commanders – who average nearly 30,000 fans per game – as well as Orlando and San Diego, who draw around 20,000 paying customers per game.
If you have, say, a San Antonio vs. Orlando title match – which is a very real possibility – there won’t be room in the stands for several thousand of their supporters.
And for a league that has been first-class in almost every move it’s made, the announcement about leaving Las Vegas was rather clunky.
“We are eternally grateful to the people and city of Las Vegas as well as Las Vegas Events and the LVCVA for their early support and confidence in what we have created,” Ebersol said. “Not only is Las Vegas the home of our investor and world-class partner, MGM Resorts International, Vegas is the undisputed mecca for live events. While we won’t play our championship game in Vegas this year, we will still be offering a one-of-a-kind experience for Alliance fans in Las Vegas during our Championship weekend.”
So, they can watch the game on TV or the AAF app while they gamble? Is that the one-of-a-kind experience for Alliance fans in Las Vegas?
The move with only four regular season games left has inconvenienced a lot of people who had already made plans to mix football with craps on the last weekend of April.
Again, though, the bigger picture is one of the new league and the big league getting cozier and cozier. Polian said a couple of weeks ago “… there’s enough discussion about it that those discussions are going to continue,” when asked about the possibility of a partnership between the leagues.
On Wednesday, he sounded even more optimistic.
“Jerry Jones isn’t just a close friend of Tom, Charlie and mine, but he is also a great supporter of our league,” Polian said. “To be able to showcase our brand of top-flight football on NFL Draft weekend in the state-of-the-art football facility built by Jerry is a Texas-sized win for our league.”
I really hope this announcement is a major step toward making the Alliance an honest-to-goodness farm system of the NFL. Despite a few sloppy games (and way too many dropped passes), I’ve learned to love the new league and want it to succeed.
Aligning with the NFL – officially – will increase those chances of success dramatically.