Last week, the Alliance of American Football (AAF) filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, dissolving yet another offseason professional football league. But this one was supposed to be different—with serious funding and a board of executives featuring name brands like former All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu, it seemed like the AAF had both the capital and the support to get something going.
But, like every other iteration of offseason pro football, it flunked, and flunked hard. Even with a legitimate TV deal with CBS Sports, the AAF barely lasted a season. That’s a shame. There were some good players in the AAF, namely quarterback Garrett Gilbert, whom you may remember as Colt McCoy’s backup at Texas, and former Alabama sensation Trent Richardson. Gilbert earned himself another shot in the NFL, signing with the Cleveland Browns earlier this month. Meanwhile, Richardson is still looking for a job. In any case, if there was a league to succeed, it was the AAF. And it didn’t. Leagues like the AAF never will.
But why? It’s simple: No one cares.
The American sports market is already oversaturated. Think about it: Pretty much the whole world only follows a couple sports. The cosmopolitan one is soccer, while you’ll find rugby, cricket, baseball or basketball, depending on where you are. But in America, there’s baseball, football, basketball and maybe even hockey. Each sport has an offseason, but there is no offseason for sports in America.
In other words, there’s no room for offseason football. Who wants to spend a perfect summertime evening watching a football game on the sofa? Forget about it. Granted, the AAF tried to circumvent that with some clever scheduling by having the first game kickoff less than a week after the Super Bowl. Even then, there’s simply no room, not with March Madness, early season baseball and the NBA Playoff race to contend with.
But it would still be nice, wouldn’t it? Sure, you can’t expect Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes to lace up for an offseason football league, but it would be fun to have a stable league with recognizable names like Gilbert and Richardson. It can happen—the MLB does it. They’ve been doing it longer than basketball has even existed, and they’ll continue to do it for years to come.
The secret is the tradition.
The layman goes to a baseball game for the fanfare, so they can eat hotdogs and sing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’ What kind of tradition does football or even basketball have? The college level features some, from student sections to university-specific ones, like Kansas’ ‘Rock chalk, Jayhawk’ chant. Establishing that kind of culture takes time—that’s obvious—but that’s what keeps people coming back to games, year in and year out. That’s what makes the experience fun, what differentiates watching a game at home vs. watching a game at the stadium.
If an offseason football league is going to work, it needs to start with that. A paid ‘spirit section’ to lead chants (a concept that some NBA teams have embraced) would be a good first step. The more fan involvement, the better. But that’s a tall order. A really, really tall order.
One can dream.
For most fans of pro sports, I think the paid ‘spirit section’ is a joke. In college football and, to a lesser extent, basketball, the cheerleaders are part of the game and followed mostly by the students.