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The Alliance of American Football: The League That Wasn’t

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The Orlando Apollos practice in February 2019. Photo from AAF.com

Orlando basketball fans have the Magic, soccer fans have Orlando City, hockey fans have the Solar Bears. And for a few weeks this past spring, football fans in Orlando had the Apollos.

Then the Alliance of American Football collapsed. As the dust settles from the failed football league, fans and players are wondering, what now?

An Unexpected End

The Liberty Bowl was the last time the Orlando Apollos would suit up in their white, orange, and blue jerseys. Former Offensive Tackle Chris Martin said the team was like family.

Chris Martin, Former Offensive Tackle for the Orlando Apollos.

“We ate together, we sat together,” Martin said. “I probably hugged Tim Ruskell, the GM, after every game, after every win because we were so excited. You don’t get to do that everywhere.”

The players, coach and staff were in the middle of practice when they were told the Alliance of American Football had suspended operations. It was a blow to Martin, who was finally going to start at right tackle.

“So it was a very important game to me and my family,” said Martin. “I had a whole bunch of family coming to this game and then it’s like, ‘oh no, never mind.’ It ended so abruptly and nobody had any idea because it was just a normal day.”

The AAF’s demise took fans by surprise too. 

“It was the first thing I ever bought season tickets to. It was a good price. So, I was excited,” said Johnathan Mohammad.

The Dust Settles

The league’s implosion in April was tied to the business dealings of one man, Reggie Fowler. Sports Illustrated reported that Fowler, a former investor in the Minnesota Vikings, had injected $25 million into the AAF. Then, the league suddenly ran out of money, and that’s when investor Tom Dundon stepped in.  

“The reason they had to go get funding from him so quickly was because Fowler was supposed to have funded the league. But all of a sudden couldn’t withdraw his money from any foreign or domestic bank accounts in order to fund the league,” said Jeff Sharon, managing editor of The Black and Gold Banneret.

Fowler was arrested on April 30 in New York, and indicted on charges of bank fraud and operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business. Federal prosecutors allege he was running a shadow bank, processing hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of numerous cryptocurrency exchanges.

The AAF had already filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy before Fowler’s arrest. 

“They owe $5 million to CBS. They owe MGM International, one of their investors, $7 million. There were reports that they owe UCF around a million dollars for the use of their stadium, Spectrum Stadium in Orlando,” Sharon said.

Johnathan Mohammed bought season tickets for the first time for the Alliance of American Football.

It wasn’t just the stadium and investors who lost out. Players and fans did too. Johnathan Mohammed said he didn’t want a refund for the entire season, just the last two games.

“And a couple people who’ve purchased through Ticketmaster, apparently they have gotten theirs. But, since I purchased mine through Apollos, it’s a different story,” Mohammed said.

What Now?

As for former Apollos player Chris Martin? He’s living with his family in South Florida.

“Luckily, my wife keeps tabs on me very well. She makes sure that our money doesn’t get blown away,” said Martin.

According to Martin, there’s a silver lining to all this. The league gave him a chance to return to the city he loves to play football. He wants to wait for the start of Vince McMahon’s XFL in 2020 but he’s already received interest from teams in the Canadian Football League.

The league also gave other players the opportunity to get more game tape. For example, former Apollos wide receiver Charles Johnson signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.

However, for football fan Johnathan Mohammed, he’s not so sure he’ll be buying any season tickets for new leagues like the XFL.

“I don’t know yet. I’m still kind of mad about the AAF,” Mohammed said.

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Talia Blake

About Talia Blake

Morning Edition Host & Reporter

After a brief stint as Morning Edition Producer at The Public’s Radio in in Rhode Island, Talia Blake returned to WMFE, the station that grew her love for public radio. She graduated with a double-major in Broadcast Journalism and Psychology from the University of Central Florida (Go Knights!). While at UCF, she ... Read Full Bio »