The Alliance of American Football wasted no time in getting its inaugural season started as the league debuted the week after Super Bowl XLIII.
From a ratings standpoint, the opening weekend can be deemed a success as the league averaged 3.25 million viewers for its Saturday debut on CBS.
That’s comparable to what NFL preseason games drew this season (3.32 million viewers). It also exceeded ratings for NBA games aired at the same time on ABC (2.67 million viewers).
The league also received positive reviews from the fans’ standpoint as many praised the games for looking like the old-school football they grew up on. The transparency of the AAF replay review system was also praised in comparison to the NFL’s.
But AAF founder Charlie Ebersol isn’t popping bottles like the ’72 Miami Dolphins just yet and is remaining cautious in his approach to the league’s first season.
“We feel really good about (the first week ratings) and that our theory that Americans want more football tends to be true,” Ebersol told The Associated Press.
“However, we still have to remain slow and steady in building things. We are going to be facing stiff competition as soon as next month” when the NCAA Tournament dominates sports news.
However, before March Madness even rolls around, the AAF will have to evaluate its performance on cable television instead of a broadcast network.
Last week’s games on CBS were the only AAF contests on the network until the championship game in late April. For the rest of the regular season, AAF games will air on the NFL Network, the CBS Sports Network and TNT, in addition to streaming on Bleacher Report’s B/R Live.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 12, 2019
The debut broadcast on NFL Network averaged 640,000 viewers.
By comparison, of the 15 NFL preseason games that aired on NFL Network this past season, all but one had fewer than 750,000 viewers.
Outside of ratings, the opening week was successfulon other platforms as well. The AAF mobile application is the second-most downloaded sports app through Apple’s App Store.
Ebersol plans on leveraging this digital era we’re living in by providing more content to fans outside of the traditional platforms.
“What we are looking to do is create a structure that is equitable for the network,” Ebersol told the AP.
“People paying for media rights are losing money. In the modern tech world, you want to get people engaged in the product and there is an enterprise value. CBS has been buying into technology companies and Turner bought Bleacher Report a couple years ago.”
Ebersol knows that it is way too early to make any judgments on the AAF, but he said he knows that the quality of the product on the field is what determines whether the AAF becomes a “league” rather than just a “season” like the original XFL back in 2001.
Speaking of the XFL, its relaunch in 2020 will make it one of a few competitors to the AAF and, possibly, the NFL.
The American Patriot League plans on launching in April and will run head-to-head with the AAF. The Freedom Football League is expected to debut in 2020 as is the Pacific Pro Football League.
The 10-week AAF season will run through April 14 with the playoffs being held a week later.
The championship game is scheduled for Saturday, April 27.
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