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Not content merely with owning a professional team, Tom Dundon is buying a professional league.
The Carolina Hurricanes owner was named chairman of the new Alliance of American Football on Tuesday after stepping in with a cash infusion to become the league’s primary investor, and the question most pressing in this market has nothing to do with football: How will it affect the Hurricanes?
“It won’t at all,” Dundon said. “Although I talk to (general manager) Don Waddell and I’m involved, I don’t have a day-to-day responsibility and therefore I have lots of excess time. If I didn’t do this, I was going to go buy a company and start running a company again. I needed more to do. I feel like the Hurricanes are in good hands, the business is running well. It’s still something I love and have conversations about and want to keep improving, but it’s not a full-time job. It never really was. It definitely isn’t at this point.”
While that may slightly downplay Dundon’s role in the hockey team’s decision-making process, where he has the final say on just about everything and is in near-constant communication with Waddell and the rest of the front-office staff, only he knows just how much spare time he has. Dundon said he had initially passed on investing in the AAF, but reconsidered after seeing the first-weekend ratings when it ran into financing issues. With football guidance from Dallas friends Tony Romo and Troy Aikman, Dundon stepped in to take control of the single-entity league, which owns all eight teams and assigns all players, much like MLS did at its inception.
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While not affiliated with the NFL, the developmental league started play two weeks ago with the idea of grooming talent for the NFL in the offseason while experimenting with new technology and rule changes. Former Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford, with the Arizona Hotshots, has been one of the league’s breakout stars over the opening two games.
Founded by TV producer Charlie Ebersol and longtime NFL executive Bill Polian, the AAF has an interactive app that allows fans to predict plays as they watch, television deals with CBS and the CBS Sports Network, TNT and the NFL Network, and a maximum player salary of $70,000, all of which were attractive to Dundon.
“The play here is to have a great football league in the offseason that gives opportunity to players, coaches, referees and technology and innovation,” Dundon said. “To me, our job is to give an opportunity to people to work on their craft. Obviously football is pretty popular. This keeps football around for the people who want more football. It’s not replacing the NFL.”
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes woke up Tuesday morning one point out of a playoff spot in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference wild-card race with 23 games to play and 15-5-1 in 2019 going into Tuesday night’s game against the New York Rangers.
There’s still a long list of decisions to be made with that team, from what to do at the trade deadline – mainly, whether to trade impending free agent Micheal Ferland or let him play out his contract – to what figures to be a gargantuan contract extension for Sebastian Aho, negotiations that have been pushed back to the offseason at this point.
Despite the money added in the Nino Niederreiter trade and the contract extensions for Teuvo Teravainen and Jordan Martinook, Dundon knows he’s going to hear about the investment in the football league the next time the Hurricanes decide not to re-sign a popular player (like Ferland).
“The Hurricanes are still the most important thing in my life outside my family,” Dundon said. “I want the Hurricanes to win more than anything. The difference in this league is I just want the league to win. I was at the San Antonio game Sunday and it was really nice not to care about who won.”