SMG: Transactions, sports journalism, and hte AAF

And so, we bid goodbye to the AAF.

Let’s be honest – this is no surprise. The sports media world kind of blew up after the league’s inaugural week, when it had higher ratings than an NBA game between James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Of course, that was fool’s gold. And the league faded from the sports conversation in less than two months.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition with the fact that football remains near the top of the sports headlines, with the Odell Beckham Jr. trade highlighting a month of free-agent news, trades, signings, etc. That interest would suggest that we can’t get enough football, and yet, an actual football league folded due to lack of interest.

There are a number of reasons why this happens. The AAF was a minor league, filled with players who weren’t good enough to be in the NFL. If they were good enough, they’d be in the NFL. Its season was during the heart of an always-interesting NBA season and the NCAA Tournament, which evolved into one of the most compelling in a number of years. There’s a certain rhythm to the sports calendar, and football in the spring never feels right.

But I think the evolution of our sports media landscape, and what we focus on, is a big part of it.

One of the major changes in sports media in the past decade has been the emergence of the transaction as the dominant piece of sports journalism. Game coverage has been the centerpiece of sports journalism since its inception, but as game coverage has become more commodified and less valuable, reporting on transactions – actual and potential – has become central to sports journalism. (This is the general thesis statement of the research Michael Mirer and I are working on.)

Taken in this view, the failure of the AAF makes perfect sense.

It’s not that people are interested in football. They’re interested in the NFL. And they’re not just interested in the NFL for the on-field action, but also the transactions and off-field news. There’s so much interest in where Antonio Brown would end up, with whom the Cardinals are taking with the first overall pick, with the mock drafts and free-agent speculation and the breaking news of trades, the AAF never had a chance.