AAF suspends football operations with two weeks left in regular season

By Kevin Allen  USA TODAY

The Alliance of American Football League is suspending football operations as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, according to a person familiar with majority investor Tom Dundon’s plans. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the development.

Pro Football Talk and The Action Network were the first to report the news.

The AAF was entering Week 9 of the 10-week regular season.

“I am extremely disappointed to learn Tom Dundon has decided to suspend all football operations of the Alliance of American Football,” AAF co-founder Bill Polian said in a statement Tuesday, according to ESPN. “When Mr. Dundon took over, it was the belief of my co-founder, Charlie Ebersol, and myself that we would finish the season, pay our creditors, and make the necessary adjustments to move forward in a manner that made economic sense for all.

“The momentum generated by our players, coaches and football staff had us well positioned for future success. Regrettably, we will not have that opportunity.”

Dundon, the owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, made the decision to suspend operations amid an inability to reach an agreement with the NFL Players Association to use younger NFL players in the AAF. He pledged a $250 million investment after the opening week of the season.

Memphis Express quarterback Johnny Manziel was one of several players to take to Twitter to react to the news.

The AAF was founded in March 2018 by television producer Ebersol and former NFL executive Polian with the aim of creating a league that would be a feeder system of sorts for the NFL.

The AAF jumped out to strong ratings after its first weekend with CBS averaging 3.25 million viewers. But financial problems crept up after the second week, which prompted Dundon to step in.

Just last week, Dundon told USA TODAY Sports that the NFLPA would not allow the league to use practice squad players from NFL rosters. According to the report, the NFLPA felt the decision would violate terms of the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

It was then that Dundon hinted the league could be in danger of folding.

“If the players union is not going to give us young players, we can’t be a development league,” Dundon told USA TODAY Sports.

Atlanta Legends quarterback Aaron Murray (11) reacts against the Arizona Hotshots during an AAF football game at Sun Devil Stadium Mark J. Rebilas, Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Ebersol told USA TODAY Sports before the season that “you’re going to lose hundreds of millions of dollars before you get to profitability” when launching a new pro football league because of all the up-front expenses. “What we looked at is how do you chip away at that, and how do you build something that’s sustainable?” Ebersol said then.

He said the league had plans to spend around $500 million to $750 million over the first five years to get it off the ground.

He named several big-name investors in the league, such as the Founders Fund, the Chernin Group, Slow Ventures and Shaquille O’Neal. Another investor, casino giant MGM Resorts International, confirmed it was bullish on the real-time technology being developed by the league for use in sports gambling and other data-driven fields.

But then came a glitch with league payroll in February and the announcement that there was a new boss: Dundon.

After making his initial commitment in February, he challenged the notion that the league was at risk of failing any time soon. If he thought it was teetering on the brink of collapse without other funding options, he said then that “I probably would have gotten a better deal,” meaning better ownership terms. He also said then he wouldn’t have wanted to risk his good name.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to be associated with a brand that has constant issues,” Dundon told USA TODAY Sports on Feb. 21.

Dundon knew all of this and now doesn’t have a functioning league to show for that down payment on longer-term potential.

“Someone has asked me, ‘What is your commitment in all of these different things?’ ” Dundon said then. “You would never ask other businesses that. My commitment is I put my name on it. We have good ratings and we have people who want to help and have done a good job. It’s good football.”

Contributing: Brent Schrotenboer

Follow Kevin Allen on Twitter @ByKevinAllen