The Alliance of American Football (AAF) was envisioned as a league that would fully embrace sports betting as a way to attract and engage fans. Now, the fledgling football league is moving its title game away from the epicenter of American gambling.
The AAF announced Wednesday that it would be moving its first championship game from Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas to the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas, the training facility for the Dallas Cowboys.
Texas Could Suit AAF Perfectly
Given that the AAF has been struggling to fill its stadiums for much of its inaugural season, it is easy to see the move in a cynical light. While Sam Boyd Stadium can hold about 36,000 fans, The Star has a capacity of about 12,000 – a number that will be much easier for the spring league to attain.
But the league has cited its own reasons for the move, saying that playing in Texas will allow the league to put on the best show possible for its championship game.
“To be able to showcase our brand of top-flight football on NFL Draft weekend in the state-of-the-art football facility built by [Jerry Jones] is a Texas-sized win for our league,” AAF Head of Football Bill Polian said in a statement. “Our San Antonio Commanders average nearly 30,000 in attendance for home games, and we are sure football fans in Dallas/Fort Worth will support our Championship.”
The Commanders have by far the best attendance numbers in the league, with their two home games easily being the best attended contests of the season. The next highest figures come from the Orlando Apollos and the San Diego Fleet, which are each averaging over 19,000 fans per game, while two franchises – the Arizona Hotshots and the Salt Lake Stallions – are averaging fewer than 10,000.
Those numbers suggest that the AAF shouldn’t have trouble filling the smaller confines of The Star, especially in football-mad Texas. But beyond that, the AAF is also strengthening its ties with the NFL, a relationship that could help it earn a reputation – officially or unofficially – as a minor league pipeline to the pros.
“It was only natural that we at the Cowboys organization would want to join that great group of partners,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. “I have always believed that our great game of football could use a league to give players the shot they needed to make it to the NFL, and Bill Polian, Tom Dundon and Charlie Ebersol have done just that.”
AAF Sees Betting As Key for Attracting Fans
One thing is for certain: the move didn’t come because the AAF wants to shy away from the gaming industry. The hope was that sports betting would be one of the factors that would help boost ratings and attendance figures for the league, and AAF CEO Charlie Ebersol said in a statement that the league was still “eternally grateful” to Las Vegas and investor MGM Resorts International for supporting its efforts.
The one group that is losing out on the move are fans that had already purchased tickets for the championship game. The league says that anyone who bought tickets for the game when it was still scheduled to be played in Las Vegas will receive a full refund, and that there will still be a “one-of-a-kind experience” for fans who go to Las Vegas during the weekend of the championship.
According to Bovada, the 5-1 Orlando Apollos are a +120 favorite to win the first AAF title, ahead of the Arizona Hotshots (+400), Birmingham Iron (+450), and San Antonio Commanders (+500).