5 lessons learned from the AAF

It didn’t have to happen this way, but the AAF looks to be finished unless there is some Hail Mary to save the startup league. Terry Dundon took his money and the AAF’s footballs and went home. The league that everyone was excited about only a few short weeks ago didn’t even make it through a full season. The body isn’t cold, but it’s probably time for a top of the line initial thoughts autopsy here on what went wrong and what we can take away.

Have a business plan that actually works

We’ll get to Dundon’s investment and why it ended up being a bad thing in a second, but if AAF leadership thought they had a sound business plan before they launched the league, it’s pretty obvious they grossly overestimated something because the league was ready to fold early on in the season and ended up folding anyway. The AAF either got too aggressive with revenue projections or greatly underestimated the costs of running an actual league. Well, they had to have done one of those two things or their business plan was to not pay players and see how that went over. In the beginning the AAF made it sound like the league was going to be complementary to the NFL. That obviously changed when . . .

Be wary of outside investors and their motives

Terry Dundon stepped in and said all the right things. He said the AAF didn’t actually have a cashflow problem — they had to have had a cashflow problem — and he said he was in this for the long haul because he saw great potential in the AAF. Well, that changed in a few short weeks. There are a lot of rumors going around the internet about why Dundon pulled out. We know his version is that he thought the AAF needed NFL players and it was the NFLPA’s fault that the league failed because the union wouldn’t allow NFL contracted players in the AAF. There was also a rumor out there reported by Albert Breer:

To anyone that says that $70 million seems like a lot for technology, well that’s not really the case. See Billionaire Dundon can write off the $70 million he invested in the AAF — to another business unit if he so chooses — and that will lower the tax implications. Essentially he took a loss to get tech. If the tech explodes, it’s a small amount of money to get what he really wanted out of this deal.  Which is why . . .

The XFL might be in a better position

See, the XFL is owned by a very rich man in Vince McMahon. McMahon doesn’t have to answer to anyone and he also doesn’t have to go and ask for a bailout from a billionaire because he can bailout the XFL if he wants. The AAF failed because Dundon let it fail and told the executives in the AAF that he was shutting the league down since his investment gave him a controlling stake in the league. The XFL doesn’t have that issue.

The NFLPA did the right thing

If anyone actually buys that it’s the NFLPA’s fault that the league folded then they are not the person to even engage in the conversation. The AAF wasn’t going to be saved by some practice squad guys joining the league. The AAF wasn’t going to get any marketable players from the NFL. This was all risk and no reward for NFLPA. They did right by their membership and that’s their only goal.

No one likes minor league football

Maybe the AAF did perfectly fine on television ratings, but their attendance was abysmal. Running a football league is tough and expensive. The league needed to be able to provide a compelling product and it just wasn’t compelling enough. There were some very talented people who worked hard to make the AAF a reality and even they couldn’t help the league last even one season.

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