Big win for AAF, as new football league posts better ratings than Rockets-Thunder

Atlanta Legends receiver Justin Thomas (10) runs with a reception in front of Orlando Apollos linebacker Andrew Ankrah (55) and defensive end Anthony Moten Jr. (98) in an AAF game Saturday. (AP)

Never, ever underestimate the power of football in America.

The Alliance of American Football, a league most people probably couldn’t name one team from before this week, debuted on Saturday night. Its debut, with two games on CBS, was up against a great NBA matchup between James Harden’s Houston Rockets and Russell Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder on ABC, a fantastic game that ended with a comeback Thunder win.

And the AAF posted better television ratings.

That’s a heck of a victory for the new football league, which generally played to positive reviews in its opening week.

AAF gets big television ratings win

Darren Rovell of the Action Network reported that, according to his sources, the AAF did a 2.1 overnight rating while a marquee NBA matchup between the league’s last two MVPs did 2.0.

There are plenty of caveats to a one-night win like that. There was certainly more curiosity about the AAF than a regular-season NBA game. Other startup football leagues like the USFL and XFL did fantastic ratings right away, and then those fizzled quickly. It’s not like the AAF is going to routinely outdraw the NBA.

But it’s a clear victory for the new league. Social media reaction to the games — San Diego Fleet vs. San Antonio Commanders, Atlanta Legends vs. Orlando Apollos — was mostly positive. Complaining about anything and everything is the easiest thing to find in 2019, yet a new football league of mostly castoffs was received well. 

What does this mean for the AAF?

The challenge for the AAF will be to keep the good times rolling. Ratings will be harder when the games are on CBS Sports Network and not CBS in primetime. The novelty is great, but compelling football will be what keeps people engaged long term.

But you have to start somewhere, and the start for the AAF is a clear win. It’s more proof that football, no matter what name it is under, rules the American sports landscape.

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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