Josh Boutwell

As most everyone in this state is aware of by now, Alabama has a professional football team again with the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football.

It’s no secret that I have been a supporter of this league and the Iron from the beginning, as I desperately want a pro football team and a spring football league to work here.

Since I was a kid hearing stories about the Birmingham Stallions of the United States Football League and the Birmingham Americans/Vulcans of the World Football League from my dad, the thought of a spring football league has always amazed me.

I’ve been a football nerd from as long as I can remember. The first books I can remember reading were about the game I loved.

In the fall, Alabama and Auburn are kings and always will be kings. A pro football team would have to fight with those two giants that routinely draw 90-100,000 people each week, and would likely ultimately fail. A spring league, though could, and should, work.

People in this state love football and in the old USFL, the Birmingham Stallions routinely drew among the most fans in the league, the same can be said for the Birmingham Americans/Vulcans of the WFL. Even the old Canadian Football League team, Birmingham Barracudas, drew good crowds and the horrible Birmingham Bolts had more than 30,000 people for its first few games.

In the AAF’s first few weeks, the Iron have drawn nearly 20,000 fans, a good start for a league that is just trying to get going, and Birmingham’s game against Salt Lake on TNT drew more than a million viewers on a Saturday afternoon. The AAF’s debut game on CBS drew more viewers than that of any NBA game that night.

With all of the success of the first couple of weeks, it all got wiped away with just one negative report, however.

Last week, reports from various media outlets surfaced suggesting that the AAF was in such a dire financial crisis that players had yet to be paid for their week one games and that the AAF needed a gigantic $200 million investment from NHL owner Tom Dundon just to make payroll.

The fact that the AAF’s entire year’s worth of salary, cited by co-founder Charlie Eberson, is just $32 million didn’t stop the avalanche of criticism.

Just like that, media outlets – ESPN included – that had paid little to no attention to the upstart league since its inception suddenly couldn’t stop talking about it. ESPN, The Athletic and The Action Network were some of the primary reporters of this news.

Neither of those outlets made mention of the AAF’s big ratings in the debut or last week’s debut on TNT. Neither of those outlets talked about the positive feedback on the quality of football being played or unique new rules that fans have been given. The minute there was the possibility of a negative outcome, though? They pounced.

According to Ebersol, the truth is that he and Dundon had been negotiating a “buy-in” investment for months before finally closing the deal after the success of the first two weeks. The payroll issues that The Athletic originally cited from “sources?” A clerical error that caused players to be paid on the Tuesday after President’s Day rather than the previous Friday like was scheduled. Birmingham Iron General Manager Joe Pendry and Dundon himself backed up this claim.

Whether those initial reports were true or not, it’s pretty clear that there are a number of national media outlets looking for this league to fail and are ready to jump on any sliver of negativity. That is something the AAF is going to have to overcome.

The positive thing is that fans seem to be gaining interest by the week, more and more members of the national media are paying attention to the league in a positive manner and the league just got an injection of more than $200 million, which should put any worries about financial issues to bed, at least for a while.

Regardless of any negative stories, none of that will matter if crowds continue to grow, ratings continue to grow and the play on the football field continues to be solid. Pendry has cited the numerous Alabama, Auburn and Troy players on the Iron roster as evidence of the team’s hope that it becomes a state team, not just Birmingham’s team. Pendry said that those local connections – Atlanta’s TJ Barnes was also a former star at Enterprise High – and affordable ticket prices are reasons he hopes that happens. Tickets to the Iron can be bought for as little as $15, season tickets can be bought for as little as $50, and if we want to see professional football played in this state, especially in the spring, we have to support it.

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