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4 takeaways from the Alliance of American Football’s inaugural weekend

Let’s recap the speing league’s first-ever weekend.

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Northwestern vs Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

While the NFL season came to an end last week with the New England Patriots’ 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl 53, another pro football league began operations recently: the Alliance of American Football. Founded by Charlie Ebersol and ex-NFL executive Bill Polian, the league’s eight teams played their first-ever games over the course of the weekend; kicking off the 10-week regular season.

The four games ended as follows:

Salt Lake Stallions (22) at Arizona Hotshots (38)

Memphis Express (0) at Birmingham Iron (26)

Atlanta Legends (6) at Orlando Apollos (40)

San Diego Fleet (6) at San Antonio Commanders (15)

With the AAF’s first weekend in the books, let’s take a look at four things we learned.

The quality of play was better than expected

If you play for one of the eight AAF teams you have — for one reason or another — been deemed not good enough to appear at the NFL level at the current time. The product on the field reflected that: it was clearly a notch below what happened on the last 21 weekends of pro football. That being said, it still had plenty of entertainment value and adequate enough talent to further improve its already solid quality (in particular at the quarterback position).

The AAF should be used as a laboratory for NFL rule changes

While the league models itself as a complement to the NFL instead of a competitor, it still has some major differences when it comes to the rules: from not using kickoffs to teams having to go for two after every touchdown to restricting defensive creativity, the AAF uses a markedly different rule book than its “big brother.” However, some of the ideas used are actually rather innovative especially when it comes to trying to speed up the game or giving insight into the officiating procedures via having the booth referee wear a microphone. There is some intriguing potential in the league to use it as a test ground for potential NFL rule changes.

The Patriots connection goes beyond some of the players

Colleague Oliver Thomas outlined here that there are plenty of ex-Patriots on the eight AAF rosters. However, the connection between the world champions and the developmental league goes further than that because of the AAF’s affiliations system. What does this mean? Basically that each team controls the rights to players from colleges that are geographically close. This goes beyond the collegiate level, though, and also applies to NFL teams. Say the Patriots release a player after training camp and he remains unsigned. In this case, the AAF affiliate — despite no official connection to New England — holds his right over the other seven clubs. The Patriots’ team is the Birmingham Iron.

The attendance numbers will decide the league’s future

As is the case with every sports league or cooperation, the bottom line will decide its fate. The AAF is still in the “honeymoon phase” at the moment when it comes to this, but at the end of the day (or season) finances will play a role and dictate how the league develops — and the attendance numbers are a big part of this. Will the AAF be able to grow its average attendance of 20,022 on opening weekend as well as the viewership of around 3 million on opening day?


How would you grade the AAF’s opening weekend?

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