Off to a good start for the AAF

TV rat­ings higher than premier NBA game in the reg­u­lar sea­son

The Commercial Appeal - - Business - Ja­son Munz Mem­phis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - TENNESSEE

BIRM­ING­HAM, Ala. — So far, so good.

The Al­liance of Amer­i­can Foot­ball drew pre­dom­i­nantly rave re­views on its de­but week­end, gar­ner­ing higher TV rat­ings on open­ing night than a premier reg­u­lar-sea­son NBA game, trend­ing high on so­cial me­dia and land­ing its mo­bile app at the top of itunes and Google Play’s free sports down­load chart.

Hopes were high for the first-year league. But as with most startup pro­fes­sional foot­ball ven­tures, skep­ti­cism was also lofty, even among some within the or­ga­ni­za­tion, which put each of its first four games on CBS, CBS Sports Net­work and the NFL Net­work. Justin Tuck, a for­mer New York Gi­ants Pro Bowler and a mem­ber of the AAF’S advisory board, ad­mit­ted he tem­pered his own ex­pec­ta­tions.

“But we were pleas­antly sur­prised by the prod­uct on the field this week­end,” said Tuck, who was on hand for the Birm­ing­ham Iron’s 26-0 win over the Mem­phis Ex­press at Le­gion Field. “The feed­back we’re get­ting is re­ally, re­ally great. I think the num­ber was some­thing like 11 of the top 20 trend­ing

top­ics was about our league on Twit­ter and so­cial me­dia. That’s a good first week­end.

“For us to have the type of suc­cess we had these last two days, I think we’re all re­ally happy about that.”

Sports busi­ness re­porter Dar­ren Rovell re­ported Sun­day the AAF’S first two games (the San Diego Fleet at the San An­to­nio Com­man­ders, and the At­lanta Leg­ends at the Or­lando Apol­los), which both aired on CBS, reached a 2.1 overnight rat­ing. Mean­while, a matchup be­tween the NBA’S two most re­cent MVPS (James Har­den’s Rock­ets and Rus­sell West­brook’s Thun­der) aired on ABC and reached a 2.0.

“This was an in­cred­i­ble open­ing week­end for The Al­liance, in which the qual­ity of play and fan sup­port far ex­ceeded my ex­pec­ta­tions,” Char­lie Eber­sol, co-founder and CEO of the AAF, said in a press re­lease.

The AAF is not with­out its de­trac­tors. Some have al­ready writ­ten the league off as a sub­par, mi­nor league to the NFL. ESPN’S Kirk Herb­streit called it “so JV” be­fore adding “Don’t think it has legs,” in a post on Twit­ter.

But Eber­sol’s fel­low co-founder, Bill Po­lian, said he was proud of the level of play on the field.

“We wanted to put a qual­ity prod­uct on the field, and I’m proud of what was on dis­play this week­end,” Po­lian said in a press re­lease.

“We saw big plays on both sides of the ball and I loved the in­ten­sity the play­ers showed. There are areas that cer­tainly need to be im­proved, but that’s why we have high-cal­iber coaches on the side­lines, to help our play­ers learn, grow and im­prove on and off the field.”

One of those coaches, the Ex­press’ Mike Sin­gle­tary was also im­pressed.

“I saw some of the high­lights and I thought it was some pretty good foot­ball all around,” he said. “The com­pe­ti­tion level is high and it’ll con­tinue to get bet­ter.”

Tuck, who won a pair of Su­per Bowls with the Gi­ants, said the AAF’S open­ing week­end was not flawless.

“We’ve still got some things to work on. Still got some bumps that we need to clear out,” he said. “But we’re go­ing to con­tinue to walk this thing for­ward. This is a long process. We’re not try­ing to hit a home run overnight. We know it’s a lot of steps to get where we want to be.”

Play re­sumes Satur­day when the Iron host the Salt Lake Stal­lions at 1 p.m., and the Ex­press wel­comes the Ari­zona Hot­shots to Mem­phis at 7 p.m. On Sun­day, the Apol­los travel to San An­to­nio for a 3 p.m. start, while the Leg­ends make the trip to San Diego for a 7 p.m. game.

Mem­phis Ex­press corner­back Ter­rell Bonds tack­les Birm­ing­ham Iron wide re­ceiver Devozea Fel­ton on Sun­day at Le­gion Field.

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