Alliance of American Football v. XFL: The Battle for Summer Football Ratings Begins

Imagine watching professional football in the summer.

Nope, the NFL isn’t extending its season past the Super Bowl — a new network is launching that will take advantage of the summer off-season starting February 9, 2019 and culminating with a championship game on the weekend of April 26-28.

The Alliance of American Football will be an eight-team professional league with a 10-week regular season followed by a four-team playoff. Promising “high-quality professional football,” each team will have a 50-player roster; the host cities will be announced over the next 12 weeks.

“There is a significant amount of football talent looking to begin or extend their professional careers. The Alliance will provide those players with a new opportunity to compete at a high level,” says Bill Polian, co-founder of The Alliance of American Football. Polian is a 2015 Hall-of-Famer and a former Buffalo Bills’ general manager.

alliance of american football

The Launch of the Alliance of American Football

Most interesting about the announcement of Alliance Football is the other co-founder behind the venture: Charlie Ebersol. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Charlie is the son of Dick Ebersol, a sports broadcasting tycoon who was the former chairman of NBC Sports. Dick also sat as director of weekend late night programming at NBC and is credited with developing Saturday Night Live! with Lorne Michaels in the mid-1970s. More recently, Dick was the force behind NBC’s near-monopoly of the Olympic Games. But that’s not all Dick is infamous for …

“The Alliance will provide [players] with a new opportunity to compete at a high level.” 

In 1998, Dick’s NBC lost the broadcasting rights to the NFL’s American Football Conference. As fate would have it, shortly after that loss, WWE’s Vince McMahon called up Dick and offered him rights to broadcast a new football league: the XFL.

Dick and McMahon joined forced to launch the first season of XFL in 2001, promising more vicious and gritty football than was allowed by the NFL — hence the name “Extreme” Football League. (Plus, nearly-naked cheerleaders and wrestling-worthy storylines … in a word, XFL was insanity.) As documented by ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary, This Was the XFL, the league was a major bust and closed operation the same year of its founding.

The Return of the XFL

In an unofficial press conference in January 2018, McMahon announced the XFL will re-launch in the summer of 2020 — one year after the new Alliance takes the national stage. The league will include an eight-team (40-man rosters) and 10-week regular season with two semifinal playoff games and a championship game.

“The new XFL is an exciting opportunity to reimagine America’s favorite sport,” says McMahon. “As we move towards kickoff, we look forward to listening and implementing innovative ideas from players, coaches, medical experts, technology executives, the media and most importantly football fans.”

But it gets even more interesting and convoluted. Charlie Ebersol, co-founder of Alliance, was the director of the 30 for 30 doc on XFL, and now his father Dick will serve on the Alliance Board of Directors.

The Battle for Summer Football Ratings Begins

Alliance and XFL couldn’t be more different, yet the two leagues will overlap with airtime. It seems Charlie has crafted his league around being a foil to XFL (at least in its former “vicious” embodiment), attempting to present an ultra-safe and refined off-season option for football lovers. Charlie even teamed up with CBS as the official television partner.

“Players have our commitment that we will seek the highest degree of safety and our support as we continue to invest in their success off the field with post-football career scholarships and financial wellness programs,” Charlie Ebersol adds.

The Alliance will also introduce several rule changes designed to “enhance excitement, increase the safety, and accelerate the pace and tempo of games,” including eliminating kickoffs and allowing the offense to start on the 25-yard line. In place of the onside kick, the trailing team will receive the ball on their own 35-yard line facing fourth down and 10. There will also be a shorter play clock, no more extra point requiring two-point conversions after every touchdown, and fewer commercial breaks (woohoo!). The matches will be available to live stream on the upcoming Alliance app and, yes, there will be fantasy play.

The XFL, on the other hand, will be … well, the XFL:

Let the battle for summer football ratings begin.