On Wednesday, we learned the Valley was awarded a franchise in the brand-new Alliance of American Football, an eight-team professional football league that will begin play in February.
During a press conference Friday, AAF co-founder Charlie Ebersol joined Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson to discuss Alliance Phoenix, which will play its home games at Sun Devil Stadium, and introduce new head coach and Valley native Rick Neuheisel.
The AAF will be overseen by Ebersol, former Buffalo Bills general manager Bill Polian and former Pittsburgh Steelers perennial Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu. The league will begin a 10-week season Feb. 9, six days after the NFL season ends. Four of eight AAF teams will advance to the playoffs, and the championship game will take place the final weekend in April.
Of course, most football fans know that every recent challenger to the NFL -- including the USFL (1982-86), XFL (2001) and UFL (2009-12) -- weren't long for this world. So, how might the AAF succeed where the others failed? Here are five ways the AAF will differ from the NFL and attempt to revolutionize professional football in America.
1. Shorter games
Tired of sitting through football games that last three-plus hours? That won't be an issue in the AAF.
"The first place we started thinking about is, how can we make the game shorter? How can we make it so a 7-year-old won’t lose his mind because he’s already been there for 2 1/2 hours?" Ebersol said.
AAF's goal is to have each game last no longer than 2 1/2 hours -- a feat Ebersol believes will be accomplished through a shorter play clock (30 seconds, compared to 40 seconds in the NFL), as well as a 60 percent reduction in commercial time.
"We’re getting rid of TV timeouts. We’re not going to go to commercial unless it’s part of the natural flow of the game," Ebersol said.
2. No kickoffs or extra points
The NFL is looking into making kickoffs safer, with the possible ultimate goal of eliminating them altogether. The AAF has beaten the NFL to the punch, as kickoffs will be replaced with the offensive team simply being given the ball at its own 25-yard line at the beginning of each possession.
"You look at almost any study of professional and collegiate football, the kickoff is one of the least popular plays among fans, and it’s one of the most dangerous. So, why are we still doing it?" Ebersol said.
Onside kicks will be replaced in the AAF with a chance to gain 10 yards on a single play from the offensive team's own 35-yard line in order to maintain possession. "You basically have the exact same statistical likelihood of gaining control of the ball on an onside kick as you do on a fourth-and-10," Ebersol said.
Extra points will also be absent from the AAF, as teams will be required to go for two points following each touchdown.
3. Regional drafts, local players
The AAF will feature a regional-style draft in order to allow regional athletes to stay closer to home and give fans a chance to cheer their hometown heroes. Translation: Alliance Phoenix could feature a large number of athletes who played collegiately at ASU, UA and even NAU.
Anderson is fine with the idea of having former Arizona Wildcats play at Sun Devil Stadium, as long as it leads to more victories for Alliance Phoenix.
"One of the things we want to do is make opportunities for all of Arizona. We’re not selfish just about ASU," he said. "If an Arizona player or a Northern Arizona player gets a chance to have preferential treatment in terms of being able to stay home and play along with our Sun Devil players, let’s put them all together and go win."
4. Live fantasy football
As an alternative to the NFL's fantasy football format, which Ebersol called a "passive experience," the AAF is planning to add a twist to fantasy football when the league begins play in February,
"We will introduce over the next couple of months the first fully integrated fantasy (game), where you can play while you’re watching," Ebersol said. "You can engage with your friends, you can have a dialog with your friends, all while you’re participating in the game."
5. Unique player bonuses
Ebersol said all AAF players (50 on each team) will receive a standard base salary. Bonuses can be earned in three different categories: winning, reaching certain statistical milestones, and fan engagement.
Wait... fan engagement?
"For the first time in professional sports, we're creating something around fan engagement bonuses," Ebersol said. "We're looking to incentivize both the fan and the player to have a symbiotic relationship, where the better the player does, the fan has the ability to reward that -- not just as a player on the field, but on your fantasy team, socializing with you during the week, the charitable work they do and the support structure.
"What if I said to you, 'OK, you come and play in my league, and the better you do in engaging your fans, the more you make?' We think that's the way to do it."
What exactly does that all mean? We'll have to wait for Ebersol, whose father is longtime TV executive Dick Ebersol, to elaborate further in the coming months.
"My father's single-biggest piece of advice in all of professional entertainment is that if you have a good story, dribble it out nice and slow so they'll keep writing about you week to week," Ebersol said.