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Owner criticised as Alliance of American Football suspends all operations

After a week of uncertainty, the Alliance of American Football suspended all operations on Tuesday, just eight weeks into its inaugural season. It is unclear if the start-up spring-season league will now fold.

The decision to suspend operations was taken by majority owner Tom Dundon – who had been funding the Alliance since February after pledging a $250m (€220.8m) investment – much to the disappointment of co-founder Bill Polian.

“I am extremely disappointed to learn Tom Dundon has decided to suspend all football operations of the Alliance of American Football,” Polian said in a statement. “When Mr. Dundon took over, it was the belief of my co-founder, Charlie Ebersol, and myself that we would finish the season, pay our creditors, and make the necessary adjustments to move forward in a manner that made economic sense for all.

“The momentum generated by our players, coaches and football staff had us well positioned for future success. Regrettably, we will not have that opportunity. I sincerely regret that many that believed in this project will see their hopes and efforts unrewarded. They gave their best for which I am deeply grateful. Unfortunately, Mr. Dundon has elected this course of action.”

Employees were notified of the decision in a letter from the Alliance board on Tuesday afternoon. According to the Associated Press, the letter said that a small staff would remain to seek new investment capital and “restructure our business. Should those efforts prove successful, we look forward to working with many of you on season two.”

Dundon, the owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, had been looking to secure a deal with the NFL Players Association to allow practice squad players to play in the Alliance. He said options included “discontinuing the league” if he could not secure this deal. It is unknown how far these talks developed or why he pulled the plug so quickly. There has been  speculation that Dundon bought a majority stake in the league simply to acquire the interactive gambling app that the Alliance technical team had developed.

Orlando Apollos head coach Steve Spurrier said: “Everybody wanted to play out the season and everybody is disappointed. Everyone was led to believe that the Alliance was well funded and we could play three years without making any money and this, that and the other. Obviously, everything that was said was not very truthful.”

The Alliance has struggled with TV ratings and attendances since it launched and recently moved its championship game from Las Vegas to a 12,000-seater venue in Frisco, Texas.

The Alliance’s financial struggles raises questions on how well the rebooted XFL will do when it starts next year, though founder Vince McMahon has already raised nearly $400m to fund the project after selling WWE shares. The XFL said in a statement: “We have said all along the success or failure of other leagues will have no impact on our ability to deliver high-quality, fast-paced, professional football.

“The XFL is well-funded, we have time before kick-off to execute our business plan, and we will soon announce a national broadcast and cable TV schedule that makes it easy for fans to find our games consistently every weekend when we launch next February. There is no doubt that avid football fans want more and we’re excited to get going in 2020.”

For more on the vision behind the AAF, click here.