SALT LAKE CITY — One day after the Alliance of American Football suspended football operations, the president of the league's Utah franchise, the Salt Lake Stallions, shared his disappointment while thanking the fans for their support.
"On behalf of the Salt Lake Stallions organization, it came with great disappointment and surprise to learn that the Alliance of American Football has decided to cease operations," Stallions team president Tyler Howell said in a letter shared on Twitter.
"We are truly grateful for everyone who supported the Stallions and especially the 50+ talented players and coaches that gave everything they had to provide eight weeks of very good, highly entertaining football. We are blessed to have been able to use a first class venue and fully appreciate all of the amazing people at Rice-Eccles Stadium for helping each event be first class."
League majority owner Tom Dundon ultimately decided to suspend football operations for the first-year AAF, which made it just eight weeks into a 10-week regular season. The Stallions finished with a 3-5 record, including an 8-3 win over the San Diego Fleet last Saturday in the team's final game.
Salt Lake had one home game remaining, on Friday, April 12, at the University of Utah's stadium. Howell expressed his desire to help fans who had bought tickets for the team's final home game get reimbursed. The Stallions averaged 9,125 fans in four home games at the 45,000-seat Rice-Eccles Stadium, according to paid attendance records.
"We hope to be able to share information from the league on how to provide refunds for those who have purchased tickets to the April game and will pass that on once we obtain it," Howell said.
Dundon, the Carolina Hurricanes owner, committed to a $250 million investment in the league in February, but according to The Action Network’s Darren Rovell, he will lose approximately $70 million on his investment.
The league signed players to three-year, $250,000 nonguaranteed deals that paid out $70,000 the first year, $80,000 the second and $100,000 in the third. The AAF desired to be seen as a development league and as a complement to the NFL.
“Part of the business model of the Alliance was always to have a relationship with the NFL and the NFL Players Association,” Arizona Hotshots president Scott Brubaker told 1580 the Fanatic radio. “But that was something we understood was going to have to be proven out over at least two seasons, maybe three.”
AAF player contracts were terminated Tuesday, with contracts of football operations staff being terminated Wednesday, Rovell said, adding there is no severance pay for the players. Sports Illustrated writer Robert Klemko reported the AAF made players pay for their own transportation home.
Finding housing became an immediate issue as well, former Ute and Stallion linebacker Gionni Paul noted, as players have to quickly vacate the hotels they were living in. Paul had a particularly rough week, breaking his arm in Salt Lake’s final game. Despite the turmoil, he shared appreciative words for the Stallions organization and the league.
Bill Polian, one of the co-founders of the league along with Charlie Ebersol, told ESPN that financial matters were at the core of the league's issues.
"We didn't have the infrastructure to support the business side, and that allowed the costs to get out of control. I'm told it's very typical of start-ups, but that was the central problem," Polian said in an interview with Trey Wingo.
He added: "There are no football employees left. If it's going to re-constitute, it's going to have to re-constitute from scratch."
NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport noted Wednesday that AAF players, with their contracts now terminated, are free to sign with NFL teams. One of the players Rapoport mentioned specifically was Stallions defensive end Karter Schult, who led the league in sacks for much of the season and finished with seven.
The Salt Lake franchise started its inaugural season with 17 local players on the roster, including 10 who played collegiately at Utah, five at BYU and two at Utah State. Former Cougar wide receiver Jordan Leslie was one of several Stallions players who shared their appreciation on social media for the opportunity the league provided.
Fellow wide receiver Kenny Bell reminded those who may be critical of the league to remember that people lost their jobs because of the suspension.
Howell, like so many who signed on with the AAF, saw the potential the league had.
"The most disappointing part of this failure is the belief we had that this is a product that will work. The football was good, the changes made the game safer and more exciting for the fans, the timing provided all of us with a chance to extend football by 12 weeks, it provided a much needed development league for players, coaches and officials as well as a revolutionary concept in technology that could change the way we view sports," Howell wrote.