The Atlanta Legends are the city’s newest football team, one of eight franchises that make up the Alliance of American Football, which debuted last month.
The AAF is trying to succeed where others have failed: by creating a successful spring league for players who are looking for a second chance.
Nearly 11,000 fans traveled to Georgia State Stadium for the Atlanta Legends home opener against the Birmingham Iron.
Bryan Clayton, who drove up from Columbus, was one of those fans. He says there’s no reason the new league can’t carve out a fanbase of its own.
“You don't have to just love the NFL; it’s not mutually exclusive, Clayton said. You can support the NFL, and can come out and support the AAF.”
“I’m just excited that we have some football in the spring.”
The Alliance is hoping to find more fans like Brian who don’t want to wait until fall for more football.
— Taylor Gantt (@TaylorGantt2112) February 24, 2019
But, it’s safe to say AAF isn’t gunning for the NFL’s market share like the USFL and the XFL before it.
League co-founder Charlie Ebersol made his intentions clear on the nationally syndicated sports program, "The Rich Eisen Show."
“Our goal is to be a developmental league for the NFL,” Ebersol said.
“That’s why we created the ‘NFL-out’ in our contracts; it’s why we only have NFL head coaches. What we’re looking for is players who are looking to get back into the NFL.”
The mission is to give players, coaches and officials a place to develop and a second chance to make a first impression.
The shorter, 10-week regular season won’t conflict with the NFL. And clauses in AAF contracts allow players to jump to the NFL should a team come calling.
And this developmental league could prove useful.
More than 70,000 college athletes played football in the NCAA this past year.
Less than 2 percent will ever make it to the pros.
In an effort to help build new fan bases around the AAF, the league divided the majority of its players by region, so fans are likely to see homegrown talents representing their teams.
Back at the game, Audra Reed of Atlanta is decked out in purple and gold Legends gear with a #14 jersey in her arms.
Reed says she’s there to support one player in particular: wide receiver Malachi Jones.
“I met him when his dad was still living,” Reed said, with a smile. “His family embraced me, made me feel like family. So I feel like i’m his official, unofficial ‘Aunty,’ and he’s my guy.”
These are the type of local connections the league is looking to foster.
Atlanta’s roster features players from Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech, Valdosta State, West Georgia and UGA, including former star quarterback Aaron Murray.
But the league has already encountered some struggles.
Just a few weeks after its February debut, the AAF needed a $250 million dollar investment from the owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes just to stay afloat.
And attendance numbers have been mixed, with some cities struggling to draw in fans.
Tommy Palmer, who co-hosts GPB’s Football Fridays podcast, says the league is facing an uphill battle.
“I don't want to be a doomsday critic and say this isn’t going to work,” Palmer said. “I just wonder how many people are going to come out and watch former NFL players try and get back to the NFL.”
For the players, the real test will come later this year when NFL teams open training camps and begin gearing up for the fall season.
Will their time in the AAF lead to revitalized careers? Or will they come to an end, like so many athletes before them.
Because a life in football, more than any other sport, is fleeting.
The AAF’s regular season runs until mid-April. The championship game will be played on April 27.