The Alliance of American Football and its co-founder, Charlie Ebersol, are being sued in Los Angeles Superior Court by a man who claims the league was his idea.
In a suit filed Friday, Robert Vanech, the co-founder and current CFO of Trebel Music, said he had a "handshake agreement" with Ebersol that was violated. Vanech is seeking financial damages, equity in the league and "public acknowledgment of his co-founding role." He says he should have 50 percent ownership of the league.
The AAF issued a statement Monday in response to the suit, saying, "Mr. Vanech's claim is without merit. There was never any agreement, oral or written, between Mr. Vanech and Mr. Ebersol relating to the Alliance. We remained solely focused on our historic, inaugural season when each weekend over 400 players get an opportunity to showcase their talents and fulfill their dreams of playing professional football."
Messages left with Ebersol and the AAF were not immediately returned to ESPN.
The lawsuit alleges Ebersol wanted to get licensing from the WWE and NBC to use the XFL name and to try to get them to invest.
The suit claims Charlie and his father, Dick Ebersol, met with WWE chairman Vince McMahon in May 2017. Dick Ebersol was McMahon's partner in the original XFL and is a longtime television executive. No deal was agreed to in that meeting. Eventually, McMahon started a new XFL on his own; it is expected to debut in 2020.
Vanech alleges that soon after the meeting, Charlie Ebersol and Vanech got in a disagreement about whether they were in business together. Ebersol said they were not. Ebersol also disputed, in a text exchange that is part of the suit, whether or not a handshake happened. Vanech alleges Ebersol then cut off communication with him.
The suit also alleges that a large part of what co-founder Bill Polian, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and an ESPN analyst, is said to have created with the league came from Vanech.
Ebersol told ESPN in January he came up with the idea for the league in conversations with Tom Veit, now the league's executive vice president, while working on the documentary "This Was the XFL," which he directed. That documentary was shown on ESPN as part of the 30 for 30 series.
"Once I understood that there was an economic path to doing this, before I even went out to start to raise money or think about money was I went to my dad and said, 'Look, I understand the football. I've done the documentary. I understand the football is the most important thing,'" Ebersol said. "[Dick Ebersol] said, 'You have to at least get Polian to buy into the idea that it could work.'
"Not that he needs to be involved or anything but he has to buy into the idea that it can work. Because he's the only one who could definitively tell you if a team could be built that fast. I don't mean football team, I mean the executive and operational team."
Charlie Ebersol and Polian met and then Polian agreed to work with the league. Ebersol said he and Polian then spent the next five months sketching out the initial plans for the league.
The suit alleges that Vanech was the one to first approach Ebersol about the idea in February 2017 and proposed a business including football, a mobile app, gaming and real-time biometric data that the Alliance now has created.
The Alliance started play this year, had its first games on Feb. 9 on CBS and is three weeks into the first season. The league is a single-entity operation, which means the league owns all eight teams as well as the technology created for the league. The tech, which offers real-time data updates due to technology tracking players faster than currently available, has been a big talking point for Ebersol over the past month.
Last Tuesday, Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon committed $250 million to the league and became chairman. The Sports Business Journal reported Monday that Dundon hasn't given all of the money yet and can pull his money if he wished.
Ratings for the league have been promising. They had 2.1 million viewers for the debut on Feb. 9 and the Feb. 16 game between Salt Lake and Birmingham was the No. 8 cable program that day, estimated to be watched by over 1 million viewers.