An entrepreneur and VC veteran named Robert Vanech has filed a lawsuit alleging Charlie Ebersol stole the idea for the newly launched Alliance of American Football, claiming Vanech and Ebersol were actually co-creators of the league and that Vanech is owed a 50% ownership stake.
The suit was filed last Friday, just a few days after the AAF received a $250 million commitment from Tom Dundon, a subprime lending tycoon and the owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes. Dundon is also the creator of Dundon Capital Partners, a Dallas-based firm that invests in private equity and credit.
The AAF didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The league issued a statement to other media outlets saying
Mr Vanech’s claim is without merit. [t]here was never any agreement, oral or written, between Mr Vanech and Mr Ebersol relating to The Alliance.
Since the announcement of its formation last year, the AAF has pitched itself as the brainchild of Ebersol (the son of famed NBC Sports executive Dick Ebersol) and Bill Polian, a longtime presence in NFL front offices. But Vanech’s lawsuit presents a different story, claiming Vanech approached Charlie Ebersol with the idea for a new football league in February 2017 and that the two had a handshake agreement to evenly divide the league’s equity. The document claims that Vanech is responsible for many of the AAF’s notable innovations, including the idea of assigning former college stars to local AAF teams, an emphasis on Big Data and the league’s focus on an in-game app.
The suit—which you can read in full here—goes on to paint a picture of the AAF’s early days, with Ebersol and Vanech both seemingly caught up in the heady rush of creating a new sports league from scratch. The lawsuit includes a screenshot dated March 2017 that allegedly shows a proposed a cap table for the AAF that includes a 50/50 split of equity between Vanech and Ebersol, as well as documents supposedly shared with possible investors that list Vanech as the league’s CFO and COO.
Vanech alleges that everything started to change in May 2017, when Ebersol met with Keith Rabois of Khosla Ventures about investing in the AAF. Ebersol allegedly told Vanech that any money from Rabois would come “with certain conditions,” including that Rabois might take over the COO position, and that Rabois wanted to re-allocate some of Vanech’s equity.
Vanech believed the talks were in good faith at the time, but the suit now calls them evidence “that a conspiracy had been formed to oust Vanech.” By July 2017, per the suit, Ebersol was denying the existence of any agreement with Vanech, claiming they’d had only “exploratory conversations” and “high-level discussions.”
It’s worth noting that Rabois, who has since announced plans to leave Khosla Ventures for Founders Fund, is listed on the AAF’s website as a member of its board of directors. Kevin Freedman, who was a partner at Khosla Ventures alongside Rabois from 2015 to 2017, is now the AAF’s COO.
Rabois is named in Vanech’s lawsuit as a “co-conspirator.”
Vanech is currently the CFO at Trebel Music, an on-demand music startup that was valued at $27 million in 2017. From 2012 to 2014, he was a venture advisor at AITV, which has since rebranded as Sway Ventures.