Thursday, July 27, 2006

The All American Football League - set up for failure?

Various media sources are running stories on the nascent All American Football League. It's a professional league that is setting up shop in various college towns and creating opportunities for players who don't go to the NFL to make $100K/year playing the game they love. College towns thought to be in the mix (or confirmed) for franchises include NC State, Florida, Tennessee, and Purdue. Officials affiliated with Kentucky, Nebraska, and UCLA have been instrumental in forming the league, so those might be candidate schools as well.

The season will likely run 14 weeks and focus on making kids who played at the host college and that college's conference into professionals. The players must hold diplomas in order to play the game in an interesting pro-academic twist.

The league has obviously thought this idea through and has quite a few things in its favor. It's going to pay far more than the Arena League and play on actual 100-yard fields, giving players with talent more incentive to sign with the AAFL than the Arena League. It's going to run from April to June, meaning that it's in competition with exactly zero other football leagues. It's setting up shop in football-hungry towns. I'm definitely looking forward to the formation of this league.

However, there are several enormous roadblocks to success that come to mind as I, the casual fan, consider the idea:
  1. Ticket cost is the first one. All the releases cite a $30 price per ticket. Are you kidding me? At best, it's audacious to consider selling people $30 tickets without any concept of how the game's going to play out. I was thinking $10 would be a nice ceiling for the first season. You can't take a family of four to a game you know nothing about at $30 per person, plus parking, concessions, and souvenirs.
  2. Access to beer could be a problem. Like all low-level professional and amateur sporting events, beer is the fuel that drives fandom. Everyone enjoys going to Warner Park to watch the Mallards, our beloved college summer league baseball team, many due to the fact that $2 pints of stellar Great Dane beer are cold and ready to drink. Most college stadiums, to my knowledge, forbid the sale and consumption of alcohol on their premises. Would the rules change for the AAFL?
  3. The traveling nature of the college football fan plays into this. They don't pack in over 100,000 at Neyland because the entire population of Knoxville shows up every Saturday; people come from all over, making pilgrimages to see their favorite team. Again, without knowing what's going on with the team, nobody's going to put 200 miles each way on their preferred vehicle to attend a sporting event. The spectators at first will be curious locals.
  4. Currently, there's no TV deal for this league. Not only is TV an important source of revenue, but it's crucial in building the fan base. If this league doesn't get on TV quickly, it tanks.
  5. Who wants to tailgate in June? It's way too hot. Tailgating isn't necessary, of course, but it helps change football Saturday or Sunday from a simple pastime to a culture-changing phenomenon.
As a college football fan, I welcome the opportunity to watch a close approximation to the college game in the dead months of April, May, and June. But this league needs to dramatically drop ticket costs, get on TV, and make sure that I can have a beer in my hand before I'm willing to invest in it.