There were plenty of times during my newspaper career that I wished I had gone into marketing.
Aside from making a lot more money, it seemed like it would’ve been a cool job that allowed for a great deal of outside-the-box thinking and creativity.
But I didn’t go into marketing so, really, I can’t speak intelligently about it.
Not being able to speak intelligently has never stopped me before, though. Therefore, it won’t stop me from trying to make sense of the marketing strategy of the fledgling Alliance of American Football, which begins play in February.
Now in terms of the rollout, it was great.
League officials had a mission and a message, and it was all packaged with some solid branding and a terrific league logo.
And you couldn’t ask for a better opening salvo – introducing Steve Spurrier as the head coach of the flagship franchise in Orlando.
But as of Wednesday the league has finalized its eight-team lineup for 2019. Cities represented will be Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, Orlando, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Antonio and San Diego.
Notice anything strange about the franchise placement?
There’s not a single team in the northeast, northwest or breadbasket of the United States. And even though the league already has a primary TV contract with the CBS Sports Network (the opener and championship game will be shown on CBS), it has only one city in the country’s top 10 media markets – Atlanta.
As a Birmingham native and an aficionado of off-brand pro football, I couldn’t care less; as long as the games are entertaining, I’ll watch no matter where the teams call home.
But why would a casual fan in New York, Chicago, or Philadelphia tune in?
What kind of overnight Nielson ratings will a game between the Birmingham Battalion and Memphis Bluesmen pull? (And before you start Googling, no, those aren’t the team’s actual nicknames. Yet).
I just assumed the Alliance’s first eight teams would be scattered throughout the country, not mostly across the southern part of the map.
But, a friend of mine has a theory.
AAF founder Charlie Ebersol is the son of Dick Ebersol, who is BFF with Vince McMahon. McMahon, of course, is reviving the XFL, which is set to return in 2020.
Ron Montgomery, a buddy, CFL bon viveur and, like me, fan of fledgling leagues, thinks that perhaps the XFL and Alliance could eventually merge, suggesting it could be part of McMahon’s “master plan.”
As soon as the AAF was announced, he mentioned the ties between the Ebersol family and McMahon, and opined that maybe – just maybe – this is a first-phase launch.
In other words, McMahon will have a chance to see what goes right and wrong with his “competitor” in 2019, make adjustments to the XFL, and perhaps (I can’t resist this) form an alliance with the Alliance.
If this is part of the master plan, as Ron suggests, I think we’ll find out when McMahon (or newly-named XFL CEO Oliver Luck) reveals the circuit’s eight franchises.
If you see, say, New York, Norfolk, Spokane and Chicago among the teams, then that might explain why the Alliance is so south-heavy.
Admittedly, this is all just a case of thinking out loud.
It could be that the Alliance brain trust is already looking ahead, and has plans for a four-team expansion to the northeast in 2020 in hopes of beating the XFL, not joining it.
Still, it’s taking a gamble with being what amounts to a glorified “regional” league in its first season.
If the TV ratings tank, CBS will waste no time cutting ties.
The original XFL had a contract with NBC in 2001, but when people stopped watching the network pulled out, and the league folded after one season.
I hope that’s not the case with the AAF.
My wish is that the rules will be so compelling (no kickoffs, 2-point conversions only, 30-second play clock) and the players good enough that football fans – regardless of where they live – will tune in.
If so, then the XFL will have to up its one-upmanship game in 2020, setting the stage for a spring league rivalry (if not possible merger down the road).
And if I was in marketing and the Alliance of American Football and XFL eventually combined, I’d call the new organization “Alliance X.”