A startup professional football league has formed an interesting alliance with MGM Resorts to bring in-game wagering directly to the fans. The Alliance of American Football (AAF) is set to kick off its first professional season on February 9th, 2019 and could become the first pro league in the country to fully integrate sports betting into the viewing experience.
On Monday, ESPN reported that the AAF has already built a gambling app that will not only allow fans to stream games for free, but also to place in-game bets on that very same app. In a deal with MGM Resorts, the AAF will designate MGM as the league’s official in-game betting partner for the league’s first three seasons.
What makes this deal different than other deals such as the one recently signed by MGM and the NBA is that it involves more than just standard data sharing and naming rights. MGM and the AAF plan to take in-game wagering to a higher level by putting wearable devices on players that will track all sorts of in-game metrics, even down to the speed of the quarterbacks’ passes.
Information collected by the wearables will be used by MGM and the AAF to produce more accurate betting lines and to create unique betting markets exclusive to MGM. MGM will be the only gaming firm able to tap into that data to create faster, more accurate in-game betting lines.
As ESPN explained with an example, MGM might determine the quarterback’s chances of throwing an interception have increased based on the average speed of his passes and adjust the odds accordingly. Between hands-on oddsmakers and algorithms, the additional data will help MGM come up with accurate lines and give players access to all sorts of interesting types of bets.
Although there’s nothing stopping other sportsbooks from watching the games live and offering in-play AAF betting – at least in theory – only MGM will have the ability to offer certain types of wagers such as how quickly the running back is moving down the field or the speed of the football after it leaves the quarterback’s hand.
AAF – MGM Sports Betting Deal Also to Benefit Players
One of the more interesting aspects of the AAF and its deal with MGM is the potential impact for players. The Alliance of American Football has plans in place for some sort of revenue sharing deal that will reward players based on the amount of wagering activity they generate among the fans.
AAF co-founder Charlie Ebersol told ESPN “there’s really a limitless cap on what a player can make. Money from the amount of bets placed on them is one of the ways.”
Some have raised questionms regarding the plan. For one, what sort of integrity issues will this raise? If players know at least some of their compensation is based on the amount of wagering activity they generate, will that affect how they play the game?
Maybe that’s an anticipated and even welcome side effect, but it could also spur lawmakers to more actively push for federal regulation. After all, it’s no big secret that some in Congress are intent on passing federal sports betting laws.
About the Alliance of American Football
The Alliance of American Football is a pro football league designed to complement, rather than compete with, the NFL. It picks up right where the NFL leaves off every year so fans can stay in the game even after the Super Bowl.
The first AAF games are scheduled to kick off on February 9th and the first season will run for 12 weeks, culminating in a championship game to be held on the weekend of 26-28 April. The league is also designed to be a more fan-centric experience with ingrained betting options, a complementary fantasy league and all games streamed free on the AAF app.
For example, AAF players might receive financial bonuses when drafted by viewers during integrated fantasy sports games. This will motivate players to not only perform better on the field, but also to stay connected with their fans. Fans in turn will feel like they have an actual impact on the players.
Charlie Ebersol, son of former NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, serves as the CEO and co-founder. Bill Polian, formerly of the NFL, is also listed as a co-founder and Head of Football for the AAF. Former NFL greats Jared Allen, Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu are also involved as AAF executives.
Moving beyond its plans to include sports betting as an integral part of the AAF experience, the league reportedly has additional plans in place to differentiate itself from the NFL. Included among those plans are:
- All teams fully owned by the AAF
- No TV timeouts
- Limited commercial breaks
- Rules changes such as no kick-offs to increase player safety
- Viewers can catch select games on CBS and watch every game free on the AAF app
The business structure also includes at least two unique features that should appeal to fans and prospective players alike. As AdAge noted yesterday, the AAF has a “regional allocation strategy” in which the league will try to assign former college players to a team as close to their college hometown as possible to give fans one more reason to root for their local AAF team.
The AAF also has a unique system in place to woo a higher class of players. Rather than locking in players to contracts prohibiting them from ever returning to the NFL, AAF contracts will include an “NFL-out” clause allowing players to drop their AAF contract at the end of the season if the NFL calls them up. AdAge reports the standard AAF contract will be a three-year, $250,000 deal with an NFL-out clause.
Here’s how Ebersol put it when speaking with AdAge:
“All previous spring football leagues were specifically designed to prevent players from going to the NFL. [An NFL-out clause allows the] highest-quality players to play in our league in a way in which they don’t feel like they’re giving up on their dreams.”
Other player benefits include a greater commitment to safety, a comprehensive bonus system, post-football career planning, financial planning services and college education scholarships.
So far, the AAF has eight teams with 50-player rosters ready to go for the first season:
- San Diego
- Salt Lake
- San Antonio