AAF On Life Support: New League Fails To Reach Gamblers And DFS Players
The AAF is in trouble. As a matter of fact, by the time you read this article, the league may no longer exist.
Majority owner Tom Dundon said the new league is in danger of folding without help from the National Football League Players Association, USA Today Sports reports. According to Dundon, the NFLPA is refusing to allow the AAF to use young NFL players and without that supply of young players, the new league may be forced to cease operations after only one season, Dundon warns.
“If the players union is not going to give us young players, we can’t be a development league,” Dundon told USA Today Sports. “We are looking at our options, one of which is discontinuing the league.”
Unsigned NFL players, including practice-squad players, are free to join the AAF at any time. But the AAF would need the NFLPA’s cooperation to acquire a practice-squad player who currently is signed to a futures contract with an NFL team.
It’s not the first time the AAF has run into financial difficulties during its inaugural season. Dundon invested $250 million in the AAF last month after the league reportedly was in danger of not making payroll. Now, he may pull the plug on the AAF before the league plays its first championship game.
Besides money issues, what went wrong with the AAF? Frankly the football hasn’t been terrible. After a rough first couple of weeks, the play improved once teams settled on starting quarterbacks and got used to playing together. Remember, teams only had one month to practice before the start of the season.
AAF drops the ball with bettors
Where the AAF really dropped the ball is making a connection with sports bettors and fantasy players. When the league launched, it stated repeatedly that it wanted to appeal to bettors. It’s failed miserably in that area, as bettors have lost interest in the league.
The AAF even took on MGM as an official gaming partner and created an app that was supposed to allow in-game betting. By using the MGM app, bettors were said to be able to wager on things like whether the next drive will be a touchdown or who the next player to score will be. We haven’t heard any promotion of these betting options since the season started.
“Ultimately, I think gambling is going to become a staple of professional sports,” said co-founder Charlie Ebersol before the start of the season. “We have built a data capture and manifestation platform that’s capable of standardizing the delivery of that data to gambling houses and fantasy leagues.”
What did the relationship with MGM do for the league? Besides hosting a watch party for the first night of games, the AAF has failed to benefit from its partnership with the casino and entertainment powerhouse.
The app turned out to be a disaster. It was advertised as a state-of-the-art, interactive app where fans could follow plays live. In reality, it’s a bunch of small dots running around in circles. It looks more like the old Mattel hand-held electronic football game that was popular in the 80s before video games were invented, only not nearly as fun.
Lack of information part of AAF’s downfall
Where the AAF really failed though is making injury and stats easily available to fans. Being a new league, you would think the AAF would bend over backwards to get information out to the public, especially if its goal was to reach gamblers and DFS players. Instead, its easier to get a realistic injury update from Bill Belichick than it is to find out who is starting at quarterback for Salt Lake.
Early in the season when it was vital to make a connection with sports bettors and DFS players, the AAF didn’t even release an official injury report. Injuries came filtering out on Twitter by the PR departments or beat writers covering the team late in the week. However, initially it wasn’t certain where to find injury reports or how accurate the information was being reported.
Besides poor injury reporting, the league had no way to deliver official game stats. Bettors and DFS players couldn’t just go to ESPN to look at the box scores because they don’t exist. If it wasn’t for the web site noextrapoints.com, which has no affiliation with the league, AAF stats may still not be available. Imagine wagering on an NFL game and not being be able to look up game stats.
Bettors tune out AAF
So, how has the betting handle on AAF games this year? As you can imagine, it’s low. Derek Wilkinson, race and sports supervisor at the Westgate LV SuperBook, said after Week 2 that the handle was similar to that of a mid-level weekday college basketball game. In recent weeks, betting on the AAF has been close to non-existent.
“The handle has dropped off significantly,” Wilkinson told RotoGrinders. “I don’t know if it’s due to the NCAA Tournament or if people just aren’t interested, but we haven’t seen very many bets at all recently. It’s unfortunate because we always root for new leagues to do well, but this one just hasn’t caught on at all with people.”
No DraftKings or FanDuel
Perhaps the biggest failure by the AAF was not coming to any kind of agreement with DraftKings or FanDuel. You know, the two companies that operate DFS sites and sportsbooks, where it’s legal? Neither place offers AAF fantasy options on their web sites. Heck, DraftKings Sportsbook didn’t offer lines on AAF games until Week 2. The league did a terrible job of establishing relationships within the fantasy community and reaching people who live and breathe football 365 days a year.
We reached out to the AAF for a comment last week but are still waiting to hear back from their PR department.
The AAF simply isn’t resonating with sports bettors and it’s a shame. Many bettors and DFS players embraced the new league early. They wanted to engage with the AAF. The league did little though to build a relationship with what could have been its most loyal followers and biggest fanbase. Now, the AAF may fold if the NFL and NFLPA doesn’t step in to throw it a lifeline.
If the AAF does go away after one season, it has no one to blame but themselves.