"If the players union is not going to give us young players, we can't be a development league," Dundon told USA Today, adding that he expects to make a decision on the AAF's future over the next two days. "We are looking at our options, one of which is discontinuing the league."
The AAF launched in 2018 and began play this February, a week after the Super Bowl, with the goal of serving as a pseudo minor league for the NFL. Originally backed by VCs such as Founders Fund and Slow Ventures, the AAF received a linchpin nine-figure investment from Dundon after just its second week of games. About a month ago, a VC veteran named Robert Vanech filed a lawsuit against AAF co-founder Charlie Ebersol and other executives alleging they conspired to freeze Vanech out of the initial plans to launch the league.
In the meantime, the league has continued with its inaugural season: Through seven weeks, the Orlando Apollos sit at the top of the standings with a 6-1 record. After initially planning to broadcast just one regular-season game each on CBS and TNT and most of its other games on less widely available networks, the AAF has added several more games on national TV to its slate, including another contest on TNT this coming Saturday. That would seem to indicate that media entities, at least, are intrigued by the league's progress.
But it was always going to be an uphill battle to start an entire new professional football league from scratch, an extremely expensive idea where plenty of others before have tried and failed. The AAF signs each of its players to three-year contracts worth a total of $250,000—while that's a relatively meager some in the world of pro football, it still can add up to more than $30 million per year in salary expenditures. That's before you consider the cost of renting stadiums, paying management, buying equipment, and the countless other activities a pro football league requires.
It's a massive amount of infrastructure that the NFL has spent more than half a century building—which perhaps partially explains the reticence on behalf of the players union about NFL athletes moonlighting in the AAF. Intricacies of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement (including a prohibition on mandatory offseason workouts) and the threat of serious injury that could derail a player's NFL career (and thus his pension schedule) are believed to be other factors in the lack of overlap between the two leagues.
If this does prove the beginning of the end for the AAF, at least those fans eager for an alternative to the NFL won't have long to wait for another attempt: Backed by pro wrestling icon Vince McMahon, a second version of the XFL is scheduled to begin play in 2020.
Featured image via Yobor10/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Related read: VC-backed football is here. Can the AAF succeed?