With the staggeringly low success rate of alternative pro sports leagues, it’s easy to dismiss any new venture.
The Alliance of American Football, however, is now a bit harder to ignore.
Less than a month after the fledgling spring league came out of nowhere, the AAF hinted that it was serious about going somewhere when it named Steve Spurrier its first head coach and Orlando its flagship franchise.
All new business ventures need publicity, and signing the Head Ball Coach to a deal generated plenty of it – even during a weekend when The Masters was the top story.
In a statement posted on the AAF website, Spurrier says co-founders Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian have created a league worthy of his time and effort. It didn’t take much convincing for him to agree to become the first coach in league history.
“What first captured my attention was Charlie and Bill’s commitment to putting top-flight, professional football on the field and creating a true alliance between fans, players and the game,” Spurrier said. “The Alliance offers a unique opportunity to get back into coaching, this time for a spring season, and work closely with hungry, talented athletes looking to begin, revive or extend their professional careers.
“The fact I can do this in Orlando makes it that much sweeter. I’m fired up and ready to go.”
Spurrier, of course, has a national championship and six SEC titles on his resume from his days at Florida; won an ACC crown at Duke; and even turned South Carolina into a top 10 program before things started going backward with the Gamecocks. After three consecutive 11-2 marks in Columbia, the team went 7-6 in 2014 and he resigned midway through the 2015 campaign with Carolina sitting at 2-4.
And while his two-year stint in the NFL was hardly memorable (12-20 with Washington), his last job in a pro spring football league certainly was.
Spurrier coached the United States Football League’s Tampa Bay Bandits during all three of its seasons (1983-85), creating the wide-open “Bandit Ball” attack and helping the team finish 35-21 overall with two playoff appearances.
The Bandits averaged 43,343 fans per game – second best in league history.
Now he’s back in Florida, and his name alone should be worth strong early ticket sales at Spectrum Stadium.
So why Orlando as AAF ground zero?
“When reviewing markets for the Alliance, we focused on cities who were looking for more football,” Ebersol said. “Orlando has already proven to be a passionate, loyal and engaged fan base that loves the game, yet they don’t have a professional football team to call their own.
“Well, we’re not just bringing professional football to town, we’re bringing the Head Ball Coach with us, a true Florida legend.”
Spurrier is a polarizing figure – I’m guessing the excitement level in Tallahassee and Miami is a bit more muted – but he’s still a big get and this is, after all, pro ball.
The AAF is planning on a territorial system for drafting and signing players, so expect most of the football-playing colleges in the Sunshine State to be represented on the 50-player roster.
And since the AAF can be considered an informal feeder league for the NFL, the best way to sell Double A (or optimistically, Triple A) football is to use players the fans already know.
Of course, it’ll all come down to whether or not people are willing to accept the fact that the AAF is a legitimate bridge between college and NFL ball.
To that end, Spurrier in Orlando is a good start, but what’s next?
The league will start play with eight franchises in 2019, so it’ll be interesting to see what other coaches and cities are matched up.
Based on Ebersol’s statement, you get the impression that maybe he wants to avoid NFL towns.
On the other hand – from a media and marketing standpoint – it never hurts to have a New York, Chicago or Los Angeles in the mix.
Whatever the case, I’m much more interested in the Alliance of American Football today than I was a week ago.
It’s still a longshot, but it’s off to heck of a start.