The Alliance of American Football – Sports Start-Up or Tech Start-Up?

February 28, 2019

The new Alliance of American Football (“AAF”) league has been in the news quite a bit lately. But exactly what is it? Your first reaction is probably: “It’s clearly a sports start-up.” But if you take a closer look, you could make the argument that it’s also a technology start-up.

There’s no denying that football is at the core of the AAF. However, is the quality of the football being played in the AAF an investor’s greatest concern? I suggest that the AAF is not solely a sports league, in the way we look at and define the National Football League. The AAF is a technology company first, and its byproduct is football. But how can that be? Let’s dive a little deeper.

Much of the initial investment in the AAF was used to build its technology infrastructure. In fact, the new league’s success or failure will probably rest with the technology it deploys.

Take the AAF app. The league has been marketing its app as a leading-edge platform to bring live streaming of games, viewer interaction, and in-game sports betting to the fans. Like other technology-based startups, the AAF appears to be building a subscriber base and hoping these users enjoy the action on the field, while also interacting with the app. The league sees technology (from a macro view) and the app (from a micro standpoint) as just as important as the on-field play in order to cultivate fan engagement and long-term success.

Think back to the year 2000 when Major League Baseball launched MLB Advanced Media as a way to live stream games to fans. If you remember, this eventually became BAMTech, which Disney acquired in 2016 for $1 billion. BAMTech’s major clients included ESPN (who used it for its Watch ESPN service), the National Hockey League and the Professional Golf Association Tour. BAMTech is now what Disney is using for its streaming services.

Here’s a thought. Could the AAF license the data it receives through its app? Interesting idea, but only time will tell. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Still think the AFF isn’t a tech start-up?

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