Two new football leagues have formed this year, with the Alliance of American Football announcing that it will start play in 2019 and the XFL announcing that it will start in 2020. But as the AAF makes concrete plans that show it has a real backing, it raises questions about whether the XFL will be too far behind to catch up.
The AAF has already announced that several credible, well-known coaches have agreed to coach teams in its league, which will begin play in February: Steve Spurrier will coach the Orlando team, Rick Neuheisel will coach the Phoenix team, Dennis Erickson will coach the Salt Lake City team, Mike Singletary will coach the Memphis team and Brad Childress will coach the Atlanta team (with Michael Vick as his offensive coordinator).
Meanwhile, the XFL is tweeting about taking suggestions from fans about where their franchises should be located. No XFL franchises, coaches or league executives, other than Vince McMahon, have been announced.
The AAF has also already begun the process of explaining what will differentiate its league from the NFL. That includes rules like eliminating kickoffs, and an open-door policy to Colin Kaepernick, who is currently suing the NFL and saying its owners have colluded to keep him out of the league. The XFL has said it will provide an exciting brand of football but offered no specifics.
Most importantly, the AAF will air its first game and its championship game on CBS, and many other AAF games will air on CBS Sports Network. The XFL has no TV deal.
The AAF’s one-year head start is a massive advantage over the XFL. If the AAF succeeds in its first season in 2019, then fans who want to watch spring football will already have a league they actively follow heading into 2020. If the AAF fails in 2019, then spring football itself will look like a failure, and the XFL will struggle to convince fans that it will be any different.
Although the XFL still has much greater name recognition than the AAF, thanks to the XFL’s one and only season in 2001, name recognition can get the XFL only so far. When it’s time for actual XFL football to be played, the AAF will already be way ahead.