The Alliance of American Football’s innovative approach to professional football will take its first two championship games to Las Vegas.
The league, set to debut in February 2019, announced last week it would hold the first two championship games in Nevada at UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium. The location will offer fans the first opportunity to place in-game bets in the stands and a premiere entertainment city with national recognition. The game is planned for the weekend of April 26.
Las Vegas is not one of the eight cities with a team in the inaugural season, but was always in the plans. AAF co-founder Charlie Ebersol said he’s had a long-time relationship with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Association and MGM, which is signed on to be the league’s official sports betting sponsor and gaming partner.
“We started thinking about Las Vegas early on,” Ebersol said. “We were really focused on bringing some part of the league to Las Vegas and the championship game was a natural fit. We think it’s a massive opportunity.”
The league’s affiliation with Las Vegas is currently the first two years of championship games, but Ebersol is confident more prospects will arise in the future to expand on the league’s presence in Nevada.
Ebersol, a filmmaker and son of longtime NBC Sports executive Dick Ebersol, announced the AAF in March, along with co-founder Bill Polian, a former NFL general manager. Along with Polian, several familiar NFL names are involved as league advisors, including Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward, Jared Allen, as well as Dick Ebersol.
The inaugural eight teams are located in Atlanta; Birmingham, Alabama; Memphis, Tennessee; Orlando, Florida; Tempe, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah; San Antonio; and San Diego. Ebersol said the league is already looking at expansion plans.
“We’ve been overwhelmed with the number of cities coming to us,” he said. “We’ve realized what other cities offer our league and what we offer those cities. We offer a significant economic impact and cities have tapped into that and are interested.”
Coaches of the teams are recognizable football names as well, including Steve Spurrier, Brad Childress, Mike Singletary, and Mike Martz. Assistant coaches also carry clout, with names like Jon Kitna, Michael Vick, and Carnell “Cadillac” Williams.
Of the 640 players signed to the league’s teams — on three-year contracts worth $250,000 plus incentives — only 3 percent have zero NFL experience. The average player has two years in the NFL. It’s that experience and quality Ebersol believes will set the AAF apart from previous NFL-adjacent leagues. Players are also provided health insurance, chances to earn higher education scholarships and an escape clause to the NFL, should it come calling.
“It’s high quality, top-flight football,” Ebersol said. “Our commitment is putting real football in a meaningful way. We’re focused on putting high-quality players on the field — guys who missed an NFL roster by a heartbeat.”
During the first season, the first game and championship game will be broadcast on CBS, and at least one game per week will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network. Other innovative broadcast partners will be announced in the future, Ebersol said.
A key to the league’s success is it’s played in the NFL’s offseason, but Ebersol also sees innovative thinking and connection to fans as important to sustaining beyond the first season. The AAF mobile app will feature live streams of the games and in-game fantasy integration. Fans also will be treated to low-cost tickets and food.
“The goal with this business is to give fans an access point to sports in a way they’ve never had it,” he said. “We’ve put together the best football minds and will put great football on the field in the offseason while giving fans unparalleled experiences to interact with players and giving players an opportunity.”