As sports bettors are long known for being creatures of habit, their most counted-upon ritual dedicates them to the five months of NFL and NCAA college football seasons.
The founders of the new XFL and Alliance of American Football are banking this will soon become a standard year-long wagering experience. These new leagues will join the existing Arena Football League, which begins play in mid-April and plays its championship in early July.
Learning from the past, each new league will have its own set of rules and financial game plan to enhance the US appetite for football. Not discussed in the announcements from either league but undoubtedly crucial to their success is one interesting factor we remain deeply focused upon: The upcoming US Supreme Court decision on the federal sports betting ban outside of Nevada.
A closer look at the XFL and AAF
These new leagues stand to benefit should we see sports wagering legalized in the New Jersey sports betting case. A decision is expected in the coming weeks or months, and that could start to open up wagering beyond Nevada sports betting.
And even if sports wagering remains illegal, the leagues are likely to generate a decent amount of betting interest at offshore sportsbooks.
Early on, the AAF has been attracting for its star power off the field:
- Recently it was announced Steve Spurrier is returning to the game to be head coach of the franchise in Orlando, Fla. in the AAF. Spurrier, the former NFL and college coach, said he was intrigued by the new rules, which include two-and-half hour games, a strict 30 seconds in-between plays, and the opportunity to include great players who don’t make it into the NFL.
- He will be joined by Rick Neuheisel, who previously coached at UCLA, Colorado and Washington to head coach a yet unnamed Southern California franchise.
- The AAF has said it will prioritize player safety, stressed by ex-Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward, who will serve as executive of player relations.
- Other AAF executives include former NFL players like Troy Polamalu, Justin Tuck and Jared Allen as well as Bill Polian, a former general manager in the NFL.
Different from the NFL
But although this league will have a strong NFL identity, one factor undoubtedly will make it stand out alone compared to the National Football League. It would be hard to believe it would take a hard-line stand against legalized sports wagering. As wagering could potentially lift these leagues, where just about every other competitive US football league has failed in the past.
Conversely, the XFL, which is slated to begin play in 2020 offers a much deeper concern stepping onto the football wagering field. Vince McMahon, chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment, will revive the XFL as sole owner and has not publicly shied away from talk of integrating either daily fantasy sports or wagering into the mix.
McMahon’s empire of staged wrestling entertainment (and results) hardly engenders trust in the integrity of his football league for serious bettors. Much more worrisome, one wagering scandal could not only wreck the league but cast an unfair bigger cloud on the entire football wagering sky in general.
However, any sportsbook taking action in a regulated market — and probably at offshore books as well — would likely put a cap on how much someone could bet on games to eliminate the likelihood on manipulation.
Motivated by legal US sports betting?
Is the potential of legalized US sports wagering a motivating force within the fledgling leagues’ business plans? It’s certainly possible. After all, we’re seen the Arena Football League attempt to grow by leveraging fantasy sports and sports wagering in deals inked last week.
In fairness, especially to the XFL, we must keep in mind that online sports wagering was in its infancy in 2001 (during the first iteration of the XFL). It was nowhere near what it is today with thriving illegal offshore wagering. In the nearly two decades since, NFL wagering has become exponentially bigger, thanks to the internet. Today, that means that the new leagues could benefit from interest in betting in both existing black markets and future legal markets in NJ and beyond.
The timing of the AAF season in 2019 plus the XFL in 2020 will attempt to fill the gap when there is no football. Historically, football wagering is the king at US-facing sportsbooks of all types, from September through January. The six-week wait until the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is prime territory for the leagues to attract the interest of bettors.
The NBA continues to be the most proactive and outspoken league in favor of potential legalized expansion of US sports wagering. But you could envision these new leagues being even more forward-thinking. Could they welcome betting into their stadiums, in states that legalize it, via kiosks or mobile option? Could they have sportsbook logos on player jerseys similar to European teams?
In any event, the new football leagues are probably hoping sports betting helps them stay relevant after launch, where their predecessors failed.