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Commanders GM downplays rumblings of AAF's financial volatility

Daryl Johnston said a recent multimillion-dollar investment in the league wasn't congruent with reported payroll issues.

SAN ANTONIO — The $250 million investment NHL team owner Tom Dundon made to the fledgling Alliance of American Football earlier this week is “validation” that the spring league is a viable enterprise, Commanders General Manager Daryl Johnston said Wednesday.

Duncan, who owns the Carolina Hurricanes, was named the AAF’s chairman of the board on Monday after making the sizable investment some termed a financial bailout.

The deal came amid reports that the AAF was already in dire financial straits just two weeks into the regular season. The league missed its first payday last Friday, but league officials said the delay was caused by a glitch in the payroll system. 

Johnston said the Commanders met their payroll on Tuesday.

“The timing of the investment and the timing of the issue we had later in the week (with the payroll) makes a lot of people think they’re connected,” he said. “They’re not. They’re two separate instances. Here in San Antonio, everybody’s been paid. We’ve got one guy (who hasn’t been paid), and I think that’s because he only put four numbers on his zip code.”

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Johnston didn’t flinch when asked about Dundon’s investment and the AAF’s financial stability.

“I think it’s a huge validation,” Johnston said after the Commanders’ workout at Central Catholic High School. “I actually know Tom Dundon from back in Dallas. I do know that he’s been very successful in a lot of the things that he’s invested in. He takes his time to do his due diligence and do the research. This is a validation for what we’re doing.

“Tom is involved with Top Golf. He’s involved with the Carolina franchise in the NHL. Those are sports-driven investments, so it goes to show you that Tom has the confidence and sees the potential in what Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian have built here, and wants to be a part of that moving forward. For me, it was a big validation for all the hard work that everybody has put in since we started this journey last spring.”

Ebersol and Polian are co-founders of the AAF, which started its inaugural season with eight teams on Feb. 9. In addition to the San Antonio Commanders, the Arizona Hotshots, Atlanta Legends, Birmingham Iron, Memphis Express, Orlando Apollos, Salt Lake Stallions and San Diego Fleet make up the other franchises. 

Johnston refuted reports that the AAF did not have funds to cover its payroll last Friday before the infusion of cash from Dundon.

“Just to get the misinformation that was out there, Tom Dundon was involved as an investor in the mid-part of the week (last week),” Johnston said. “The issue with payroll came at the end of the week. The Alliance was on top of it. We changed pay-processing groups back in late January, early February. There was a glitch in the processing. They made everybody aware. We were able to address our team on Friday morning at breakfast, and let them know that the funds are there.

“'They’ll show over the weekend, but we’ve got a holiday (Presidents Day) on Monday. Banks are closed, so you’re not going to get your paycheck until Tuesday, officially, into your accounts.’ So there was a glitch. They (AAF officials) knew about it Thursday night. They worked on it long and hard on Thursday night to try to get it resolved. When they realized they couldn’t, they reached out to all the franchises and let us know what happened and let the players know that everything is fine."

The Commanders (1-1) lead the league in attendance after playing their first two games at the Alamodome. They drew a crowd of 29,176 in a 37-29 loss to Orlando on Sunday, and the paid attendance for their 15-6 win over San Dan Diego in the season opener was 27,857.

San Antonio plays its next four games on the road, starting in San Diego on Sunday. The Commanders and Fleet play each other twice because they’re both in the West Division.