Charlie Ebersol made a documentary about why the XFL failed. Now he’s set to launch an eight-team pro football league in 2019 with a CBS Sports broadcast deal and a roster of ex-NFL players in executive and advisory roles – a year ahead of WWE chairman Vince McMahon’s planned XFL reboot.
The Alliance of American Football is backed by investors including Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Slow Ventures, Peter Chernin’s Chernin Group, Adrian Fenty and Charles King’s M Ventures, Keith Rabois, and former NFL all-pro Jared Allen. The AAF is not disclosing how much funding it has raised, but “we are confident we have the right team and long-term financial resources in place to ensure fans will experience high-quality professional football for many seasons to come,” Ebersol said in a statement.
Charlie Ebersol (pictured above) also is joining forces with his father, longtime sports-media exec Dick Ebersol, who will serve on the league’s board — and previously teamed with McMahon for the XFL’s one-season run on NBC. Dick Ebersol led NBC Sports for more than two decades and created “Sunday Night Football” in partnership with the NFL along with establishing the Peacock’s Olympics coverage.
The AAF will be another bid to hook gridiron fans during the NFL offseason, like the Arena Football League and the XFL. Charlie Ebersol says the new league represents a reimagining of pro football, with a focus on player safety and profit participation as well as fan participation through free live-streaming games and integrated fantasy sports elements.
“We believe fans and players are what’s most important, so our approach is simple — we’ve created an Alliance where fans and players share in the success of their teams,” said Charlie Ebersol, co-founder and CEO of the AAF.
Ebersol co-founded the league with former NFL GM Bill Polian, who over a 24-year span built championship teams including the Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers.
Under its deal with the AAF, CBS will air league matchups beginning with the Feb. 9, 2019, season opener and culminating with the championship game the weekend of April 26-28, with one regular-season game airing each week exclusively on CBS Sports Network.
Viewers will be able to stream AAF matchups live via a free app, while also accessing integrated fantasy options with real prizes — for themselves and the players they root for. Charlie Ebersol also says the league will offer “family pricing” with more affordable tickets to games.
The Alliance of American Football is a “single-entity league,” meaning it will have full ownership of the teams as opposed to operating under a franchise model. The AAF has not announced the eight markets where its teams will be located, with plans to unveil those along with coaches and other personnel over the next 12 weeks on its website (at aaf.com). The league’s eight teams will have 50-player rosters, which AAF said will be “built primarily through regionally based allocation in the fall.” It plans to recruit players “in markets near where they played in the NFL or college.”
The AAF will have a 10-week regular season and four-team playoff. To speed up gameplay, the league will institute a play clock shorter than the NFL’s 40-second break, have fewer ad breaks, and require two-point conversion tries after every touchdown.
CBS will air two primetime AAF games on its broadcast network next year, plus the full slate of regular-season games on CBS Sports Network. “As the Alliance of American Football launches next February we are excited to become the official television partner, adding more football to our robust programming lineup,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus commented. “With Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian at the helm we are confident that the product they will deliver will be entertaining, exciting, engaging and something that fans will really enjoy.”
To minimize the risk of concussions and other injuries, the AAF will diverge from the standard NFL playbook on several features. The league will eliminate kickoffs (with offensive possessions starting on the 25-yard line) and onside kicks (with the trailing team receiving the ball on their own 35-yard line facing fourth down and 10), and it will curtail the three-point stance. League execs say independent organizations will enforce “strict” head-safety protocols.
In addition, the Alliance of American Football will create bonus structures for players based on wins, statistical milestones and fan engagement. It also promises players scholarships for post-secondary education for every year played in AAF along with post-football-career planning and counseling.
“We will give players an opportunity to flourish on the field while establishing plans to support their personal and professional growth, health, safety and financial well-being,” Polian, the AAF’s head of football, said in a statement. He’s a six-time recipient of the NFL Executive of the Year award and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.
Ebersol, Polian and their investors have been working on the formation of the AAF for more than a year. Among other key execs, the AAF has named former NFL wide receiver J.K. McKay as head of football operations and has enlisted three ex-NFL stars — Jared Allen, Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward — to serve as player-relations executives. In addition, New York Giants defensive star Justin Tuck is joining the league’s player engagement board of advisers.
Ebersol’s credits as a film and TV producer and director include “This Was the XFL,” which aired as part of ESPN’s “30 for 30” series; USA Network’s “NFL Characters Unite”; CNBC’s “The Profit”; and A&E’s “Rooster and Butch.”
New York-based AAF is incorporated as Legendary Field Exhibitions LLC.