Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon invests $250M in AAF

Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon made a $250 million investment in the upstart Alliance of American Football and will become the league's new chairman.

The Athletic reported that the league was in danger of not making payroll on Friday, before Dundon's investment. AAF co-founder Charlie Ebersol dismissed reports that the league was getting a financial bailout from Dundon.

"This has been an extraordinary undertaking for us," said Ebersol, who less than a year ago partnered with Pro Football Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian to create the AAF. "It's a giant challenge and opportunity, and as a startup you are constantly looking for some peace of mind. When we got out of the first week of games, we saw there was so much interest from investors, and if we had one person who could take care of us for a very long time, that would be great."

The eight-team AAF, billed as a developmental league, kicked off the weekend following the Super Bowl. The 10-game regular season will culminate in an April 27 championship game. CBS broadcast the two opening games, and the league said more than 6 million people watched the AAF in its inaugural weekend.

Dundon said once he saw the league in action, it made his potential involvement in it an easier choice.

"I had seen the deal when they were conceptualizing the league," he said on the ESPN On Ice podcast. "It wasn't something that I would do, because there were so many questions about the quality of football and all the things that come up when you try to start something new. Once it went on TV, looked great, got good ratings, I talked to people that were supportive of it.

"At the same time, through mutual acquaintances, I understood they had a need for someone like me to step in. It all came together on Wednesday and Thursday of last week. I wish it was more thought out than that, but it was that simple."

Ebersol said in a statement, "Tom, Bill Polian, and I will work with our great team at the Alliance to expand our football operations and technology business. Tom is a self-made American success story who brings a wealth of knowledge in the sports, entertainment and finance worlds and proven leadership to our organization."

Ebersol is largely the one who raised the financial capital to get the league started -- a vision he began three years ago, eventually bringing Polian and others on board. The AAF gave players three-year, $250,000 non-guaranteed contracts with unspecified bonuses related to incentives.

The league premiered on Feb. 9 on CBS, and 2.1 million people watched, according to ratings reports. Ratings, as expected, dipped when the league broadcast on cable channels to approximately 640,000 for the Week 1 Sunday night game on NFL Network. Ratings for Week 2 games, which appeared on TNT, NFL Network and CBS Sports Network, have not yet been released.

Some believe the NFL may one day buy the AAF, but Dundon said that wasn't on his mind when he made the investment.

"For whatever reason, people love American football," he told ESPN. "They watch it. There are enough good players ... about 1 percent of college players make it to the NFL. Now, with our league, maybe 2 percent of players get to play. It's viable just to be a support or development area for players whose ultimate goal is to get to the NFL.

"This league only exists because of the NFL's success. If the NFL had wanted to do it, they had the wherewithal to do it. I don't think about them as someone to buy a league. I think about them this as, 'Let's just create a league because it was a compelling thing to do.'"

The Hurricanes issued a statement from general manager Don Waddell reiterating Dundon's commitment to the NHL franchise.

"Tom is excited about the direction of the Carolina Hurricanes and remains fully committed to this franchise's current and future success in Raleigh," Waddell said.

Dundon, 47, is the former CEO of the Dallas-based lending firm Santander Consumer USA. He is the co-founder of Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas, home of the PGA Tour's AT&T Byron Nelson; the majority owner of Employer Direct Healthcare, a healthcare services company; and a primary investor in Topgolf.

The Hurricanes have not made the playoffs since 2009 -- the longest active drought in the NHL -- and Dundon has pledged to inject a new energy into the franchise, which has manifested this season with elaborate postgame celebrations after home wins.

The Hurricanes have struggled with attendance and have been long subject to relocation rumors after moving from Hartford, Connecticut, in 1997. However, when Dundon took over as majority owner, he agreed to not apply for relocation for seven years, which is a standard part of NHL purchase agreements.

In an email, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Dundon did not need permission from the NHL to make this investment in another sports entity. When asked whether the league was concerned that the Hurricanes would be adversely affected by an ownership pumping an investment of this size into another sports venture, Daly said: "No."

ESPN's Greg Wyshynski contributed to this report.