The Alliance of American Football made its debut this weekend, and the early returns are good.
Now, the key will be building off that success incrementally each week so the fledgling league, aiming to fill the NFL void in football fans’ hearts, can capitalize on the newfound attention. The first weekend offered something for a football-deprived America one week after Super Bowl 53.
Like defense? The San Antonio Commanders had six sacks and three interceptions in a 15-6 victory against the San Diego Fleet on Saturday. The Birmingham Iron followed up with a 26-0 victory against the Memphis Express on Sunday.
MORE AAF: Players to watch | 2019 season schedule
Like offense? Steve Spurrier, at 73 years old, brought fun-n-gun back to the Orlando Apollos’ 40-6 victory over the Atlanta Legends on Saturday.
Like shootouts? The Arizona Hotshots beat the Salt Lake Stallions 38-22 in a game in which John Wolford threw for 275 yards and four touchdowns.
That said, there’s still room for improvement as the league gets off the ground. Here is what we liked — and what will require more development — one week into the AAF.
What we liked
Big hits and no flags
The AAF got its signature hit when San Antonio linebacker Shaan Washington knocked San Diego quarterback Mike Bercovici’s helmet off with a sack — which was not penalized.
Shaan Washington can BRING IT. pic.twitter.com/7VqYNk3DwD
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 10, 2019
Orlando’s Earl Okine leveled Atlanta’s Matt Simms on Saturday, too.
— Champion Sports Productions (@ChampSportsProd) February 10, 2019
The hits were clean, and play resumed without any controversy. Go figure.
Great pace of play
A running clock and no TV timeouts allow for better game flow. The in-game commercial screen was less distracting, and you were out in less than three hours. As for viewer experience, you are not looking on your phone as much between plays or during those long commercial breaks and the game keeps your attention. It’s effective so far.
What is a catch? Nobody really knows, but the AAF took you inside the replay booth with official Terri Valenti for full transparency as she processed the review and made her call. You heard every word as she changed her mind from incomplete pass to a touchdown for Orlando’s Jalin Marshall.
The AAF is everything the NFL isn’t…The marketing Genius!
— Josh Lemoine (@LsuFBallTruth) February 10, 2019
You can disagree with the call if you want (there was a similar call in the Birmingham-Memphis game that looked like an incompletion). You can at least see the process for how the call was made.
Given the fallout from the blown call in the Saints-Rams NFC championship game, this is fantastic marketing by the AAF. It’s another promo that writes itself.
The AAF … a league you can trust.
MORE: Former Jets QB Christian Hackenberg struggles in AAF debut
A debut to build on
Watchable. That was the term thrown around on social media quite a bit, and the first weekend had to be considered a pleasant surprise. If this league continues with the understanding it’s more of a minor-league complement to the NFL instead of a direct competitor, then there will be success in the long term.
It needs to continue capitalizing on those college connections, which work well with the Alabama and Auburn players in Birmingham. That could work down the line in the Rust Belt in places such as Columbus, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Iowa City.
So far, the AAF is less sensational than the original XFL, more practical than arena football or the CFL and easier for the casual football viewer to connect with than all three. It surpassed expectations in Week 1.
Watchable. That was the term used to describe the first week.
— Ditching the extra point and using going for two points after every touchdown is amazing.
— AAF teams wear Starter uniforms. That’s a throwback brand that works.
— Seeing Spurrier hang 40 points on an opponent will never get old.
What needs work
The AAF allows only five players to rush on pass plays, and they can only rush from the tackle box. That means no cornerback blitzes off the edge. That rule is confusing the first time a viewer sees it, and it limits what defenses can do in the red zone. This is a rule that is going to get picked at as the season goes on. Viewers will learn the rules in time, but that is one that can get overruled by social media.
Trent Richardson scored his first professional TD since 2014, and he was flagged because the ball went into the stands when he spiked the football. Given the career path the former first-round pick has taken to get back to Birmingham, he should have spiked the ball harder.
— The Alliance (@TheAAF) February 10, 2019
That is one of those rules the AAF should take less seriously.
The players involved would be most of the names and faces seen in the third and fourth quarters of NFL exhibition games. The play on the field will resemble that at times, and the most-glaring spot will always be quarterback. Other than Wolford, there weren’t big numbers at the position. A missed throw here. A dropped ball there. That is going to happen early in the season.
How do you combat that? You have teams and players in all-effort games because they are trying to impress NFL scouts. This looks like minor-league football — but off the jump, it’s more exciting than watching minor-league baseball.
Attendance and TV ratings
Now it’s about keeping that interest. The attendance numbers for the first weekend in San Antonio (27,857), Orlando (20,191), Birmingham (17,039) and Arizona (15,000) were encouraging, and the new league went head-to-head with the NBA in prime time on TV Saturday. It finished with a slightly lower rating than the Duke-Virginia men’s basketball showdown.
Nice start for the AAF on CBS last night.
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) February 10, 2019
That is an incredible start, but it also was the first week. Can the AAF continue to keep that momentum outside of the game markets?