The fledgling Alliance of American Football is being sued by a man who claims that he came up with the idea to launch the league.
Robert Vanech filed a lawsuit Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court against the AAF and its founder, Charlie Ebersol, claiming he co-founded the AAF, reported ESPN.
Vanech, who is co-founder of Trebel Music, said he was the “one to first approach Ebersol” about launching the league in February 2017, reported ESPN.
In the suit, Vanech claims Ebersol violated a “handshake agreement” between the two.
In lawsuit against AAF and Charlie Ebersol, Robert Vanech — who believed he had a “handshake agreement with Ebersol” said much of what he founded about the league was later credited to partner Bill Polian.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) February 25, 2019
Vanech is seeking financial damages, 50 percent ownership in the league and “public acknowledgment of his co-founding role,” reported ESPN.
The AAF addressed the lawsuit in a statement Monday.
“Mr. Vanech’s claim is without merit. There was never any agreement, oral or written, between Mr. Vanech and Mr. Ebersol relating to the Alliance,” the league said. “We remained solely focused on our historic, inaugural season when each weekend over 400 players get an opportunity to showcase their talents and fulfill their dreams of playing professional football.”
The eight-team AAF launched Feb. 9 and got off to a pretty good start with solid TV ratings that beat ABC’s primetime NBA game.
The lawsuit details how the league came together — or at least gives Vanech’s perspective on its origins.
According to ESPN, the suit says Ebersol was originally seeking to team with the WWE and NBC, which were partners in the original XFL in 2000, to relaunch that league. The suit claims Ebersol and his father, NBC executive Dick Ebersol, met with WWE chairman Vince McMahon in May 2017 and sought to “use the XFL name and to try to get them to invest.”
Obviously, no deal was made, and McMahon went on to announce the relaunch of the XFL, which will debut in 2020.
After that 2017 meeting with McMahon, the lawsuit says, Charlie Ebersol and Vanech “got in a disagreement about whether they were in business together,” ESPN reported. Ebersol said they were not and denied that there was ever a handshake agreement, as Vanech claims. “Vanech alleges Ebersol then cut off communication with him,” the report said, citing the lawsuit.
Week 2 #AAF TV ratings
2/16 – 1,018,000 viewers on TNT (0.64)
2/16 – 424k viewers on NFL Network (0.26)
2/17 – 425k viewers on NFL Network (0.27)
— Spring Football Hub (@SpringFootball2) February 20, 2019
Ebersol told ESPN he came up with the idea while filming the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “This Was the XFL,” which he directed.
“Once I understood that there was an economic path to doing this, before I even went out to start to raise money or think about money … I went to my dad and said, ‘Look, I understand the football. I’ve done the documentary. I understand the football is the most important thing,'” Ebersol said. He said his father told him, “You have to at least get (Bill) Polian to buy into the idea that it could work.”
Dick Ebersol launched the XFL in 2000 with the WWE’s McMahon and is currently on the AAF’s board of directors.
Polian, the Hall of Fame general manager with the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts, co-founded the AAF with Charlie Ebersol.
“Not that he (Polian) needs to be involved or anything, but he has to buy into the idea that it can work. Because he’s the only one who could definitively tell you if a team could be built that fast. I don’t mean football team, I mean the executive and operational team,” Charlie Ebersol told ESPN.
Good @TheAAF news from the weekend – ratings for Saturday night game up 15 percent. Not surprised. Fun watching Steve Spurrier and @aafAPOLLOS edge @aafexpress despite valiant comeback effort by Zach Mettenberger.
— Andrew Perloff (@andrewperloff) February 25, 2019
From there, Ebersol and Polian agreed to partner and develop the league.
Just two weeks into its launch, the AAF got an infusion of cash and a new chairman. On Feb. 19, it announced that Tom Dundon, owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, would invest $250 million in the league and serve as its chairman.
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