New Professional Football Leagues Offer Alternative and Quest for Change

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The buy-in is an emerging and growing one.  Turner-owned platforms TNT and Bleacher Report (BR) B/R LIVE will be airing/streaming the Alliance of American Football (Alliance) games beginning in February 2019. 

The NFL Network, CBS, and CBS-owned CBS Sports Network round out the Alliance partners for coverage of all 40 games between the League’s 8 teams over a 10-week regular season (compared to the 256 National Football League’s (NFL) regular season games between their 32 teams, over 17 weeks where each team gets a bye week).  Presumably, as the Alliance grows in influence other broadcasters and streamers will join the Alliance, but for now will watch from the sidelines waiting to see viewership levels before committing to become a broadcaster and/or distributor of Alliance content.  However, getting in on the ground floor, should the Alliance be as successful as its leaders think and hope it will be, the first believers may become the most successful and trusted.  They would indeed have made a wise investment.  One thing is certain, Alliance and other new league content will not be nearly as expensive to place advertisements, but then again as the viewership ratings grow so will the cost to do business. 

There is also the reoccurring XFL and new Pacific Pro Football (PPF) leagues, which both begin play in 2020.  The XFL will, like the Alliance, include 8 teams who play over a 10-week regular season with playoffs and take place in the winter and spring months so that it will not compete with the NFL’s schedule.  The PPF will play 8 games between 4 teams during the summer months again under the same non-competition theory as described above.  The PPF will only be played in the state of California, where the Alliance and XFL will have teams all over the country in strategic cities.  Essentially, if all three new leagues are successful there will, at least for 2020, be football during every season of the year.

Charlie Ebersol, son of Dick Ebersol, is heading up the Alliance with Co-Founder Bill Polian.  Dick Ebersol once helped launch the first XFL with Vince McMahon and is now on the Board of Directors for the competitor Alliance.  McMahon has teamed up with Oliver Luck (father of Andrew Luck) to lead the new XFL. Super Bowl-winning Tom Brady’s agent Don Yee with Jamie Hemann and Ed McCaffrey head up the PPF.

What is different now?  Is this the United States Football League (USFL) and former XFL all over again?  Should fans, players, investors, broadcasters, and streamers alike be convinced that things have changed where upstarts can survive against the almighty NFL?  Absolutely. 

Three things show us as much.

First, the Alliance, PPF, and XFL all offer something different (a different season of the year than the NFL, avoidance of the one-and-done college rules with high school players getting to choose their destiny, less commercials, less replay, and less of the things that many American’s have complained about regarding the NFL).

Second, the Alliance, PPF, and XFL all do one thing above all else, they offer opportunity to prospects and essentially will serve as the much-needed minor league and development systems for the NFL.

Third, the NFL is already buying-in, at least with the Alliance as a broadcast partner through their NFL Network programming.  History tells us that when upstart leagues challenge an existing league one of two things happen—they get swallowed up at least in part by the existing and more powerful league, or they fail.  Major League Baseball through the American League and senior circuit National League, the American Basketball Association and National Basketball Association, show that when something good is created the more powerful entity will want a piece of the action as opposed to competing.  Imagine the possibilities now where the NFL is already buying into at least one new entity, the Alliance.

It is possible to see the PPF becoming the G-League for the NFL (think high school and undrafted college graduates), while the Alliance becomes the next-level minor league feeder system (think more established players and veterans trying to make a run at glory), and the XFL as an alternative MFL (More Fun League) depending on what content McMahon and his team push.  The XFL could also become like the Continental League via Branch Rickey that brought more professional baseball teams west of the Mississippi River.  Meaning, if the XFL becomes a competitor brand, maybe some of its teams (if hosted in non-NFL cities) might be added to the NFL’s slate of teams.

Interestingly, where the Alliance has secured streaming-type partners and distributors for its games and content, the XFL is said to be in negotiations with more traditional players like ESPN and FOX Sports.  On the other side, the PPF has secured a major apparel partner in Adidas, again pushing the theme of a developmental league by securing sponsorship dollars and inventory.

This next one is a long-shot, but imagine if CBS and Viacom teamed up again as one company and Netflix made a play to purchase Viacom since it is already working with Paramount, could Netflix then become the next streamer along with Disney-owned ESPN+, Hulu, and Amazon Prime to purchase sports content?  Unlikely at this stage, but interesting to consider.

Again, one thing is certain, this time around, the relationships between the Alliance, NFL, PPF, and XFL seems different and more collaborative.  It is possible that the new and existing leagues realize that they need each other to survive.  Apple and Microsoft anyone?  Competitors need each other to stay sharp and to fight for the consumers attention, wants, and needs.  In the end, competition brings a quest for innovation and change where everyone wins or at least the change arrives.  Therefore, we should welcome the newcomers. Regardless, the Alliance, PPF, and XFL will push for recognition and acceptance.

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