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Why AAF Collapse Should Worry PLL

Christian Hackenberg of the Memphis Express and Paul Rabil, the founder of the PLL.

On April 2nd, a shocking report came from ESPN:

“After eight weeks of games and less than one season into Alliance of American Football’s existence, league owner Tom Dundon has decided to suspend all operations, league co-founder Bill Polian confirmed to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen on Tuesday.” (Article linked below)

For those who don’t know about the AAF, I’ll summarize. The AAF is (now was) a new professional football league that started the week after the Super Bowl. The goal was to give players who weren’t quite good enough for the NFL, yet still talented, an opportunity to play professional football games. The star players of the league included Trent Richardson (Alabama), Christian Hackenberg (Penn State), and Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M). Over time, the AAF was hoping to become a minor league to the NFL, where practice squad players would come and play games on AAF rosters after the NFL season ended. For you hockey fans, think of the AAF hoping to be the AHL (American Hockey League). AHL hockey is good, but the guys aren’t at the level of the average NHL player. Sadly, now all these hopes are as crushed as my dream to be competent in college algebra.

So why am I mentioning the AAF’s collapse? Because there is a sexy new pro lacrosse league that has similar aspirations. Yes, I’m talking about the PLL (Premier Lacrosse League). If you are reading this, you know what the PLL is, so I won’t go into much detail; however, the PLL is another upstart league whose future is still in doubt (like the AAF’s was). As much as everyone is excited for the PLL, they have yet to play a game. We have no idea if it will succeed. And as much as fans criticize the MLL for their multitude of terrible management decisions (over 19 years’ worth), they’re still around.

Like the AAF, the PLL has a television deal. They will have their games aired on NBC and NBCSN. While exciting, as pro lacrosse has never had this kind of coverage, the AAF was aired on CBS, TNT, and the NFL Network. Despite the solid ratings and good exposure, it still failed.

Like the AAF, the PLL has billionaire investors; yet, like Dundon with the AAF, there’s nothing to stop these investors from getting bored with the league and ditch it. This is especially true if the PLL doesn’t provide them with the immediate returns they desire.

As I just mentioned, the leagues have some of the same characteristics; however, I believe the AAF has/had a few more advantages over the PLL.

For starters, the PLL does not have teams based off a home-model. It is a tour-based league. The PLL is doing this to bring the world’s best players to new locations and allow people from all over the country to see the pro game. This is admirable, but I do think it is harder to get into the teams. Yes, I like players on each team, but a home base for these teams makes them more likeable. It makes them easier to identify with. For example, I cheer for the Saskatchewan Rush. Why? Well my family is from there and the only other professional team in the province is the Saskatchewan Roughriders (CFL team). I think it’s cool there is a pro lacrosse team in Saskatchewan since I know the area and have a connection with it. If the Saskatchewan Rush were The Rush, and did a tour-based model around Canada, I wouldn’t cheer for them. They’d be another random touring team.

The other benefit the AAF had over the PLL is it wasn’t competing with the NFL, just trying to complement it. As I stated earlier, the AAF simply wanted to be a minor league for NFL practice squad players. The PLL isn’t doing this. The PLL’s goal is to become the “premier” professional lacrosse league. It doesn’t want to complement the MLL, it wants to overtake it and be “the league”. I won’t get into all the reasons for why the PLL is doing this (a lot of the blame is on the MLL) but it’s tough to overtake an established brand. The MLL obviously isn’t as big as the NFL, so it won’t be like if the AAF tried to become the new NFL, but there are still people dedicated to their home MLL teams. They may not want to support the new league. In fact, I’ve seen people online state the PLL may ruin what little pro lacrosse we have. What if the PLL puts the financially weak MLL out-of-business in a couple years and folds down the road? Instead of having a mediocre pro league that had its issues, we don’t even have a pro league. That would be catastrophic for the growth of the game. What are average sports fans going to think of lacrosse when informed there isn’t a professional level? Just food for thought.

Does the AAF’s failure signal the PLL is doomed? Not at all! I just figured it’d be interesting to write about the similarities between the leagues. I was especially motivated to bring awareness to fans that the PLL has a long way to go before being an established brand. I am extremely excited for PLL opening weekend. But whether fans watch it or not, if the league doesn’t make money, it will share the AAF’s fate.

Did you like this article? Do you think I was right to say the AAF’s collapse should worry the PLL? Do you think I’m crazy and have no idea what I’m talking about? No matter what you think, feel free to discuss your thoughts on my Instagram (logical_lacrosse) or Twitter (Logical_Lacrosse). Thank you for reading and hope you enjoyed!

Below I have listed my source for the AAF announcement. While this is a lacrosse site, I highly recommend checking it out for more awareness on the challenges a new league faces and why the PLL isn’t guaranteed success.

ESPN Article

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