The Elite Football League of India – the first professional American football league in India – launched its first Sri Lanka-based team, as part of its plan to expand into the South Asian region and bring the most lucrative sport in America to the region. The team, called the ‘Colombo Lions’, is the first of two Sri Lankan teams that the Elite Football of League (EFLI) has planned for the short-term, with the possibility of more teams in the future.
The EFLI hopes to cash-in on the lucrative sports and television market in the region – especially India – as they audaciously go toe-to-toe with cricket to become, what they hope, the most lucrative sports league in South Asia, if not the world.
Introducing the league to the Sri Lankan media on November 11, EFLI CEO Richard Whelan said the sport had the potential to succeed in the region’s most lucrative sports region, given the success of similar leagues. Whelan compared the viewership of the Superbowl – American football’s most prestigious game played annually – last year, estimated as being over 100 million, to the viewership of the cricket World Cup final earlier this year between Sri Lanka and India, estimated to be over 1 billion, and was convinced that the sports television market in the region would be conducive to a sport like American football.
Whelan also said that the EFLI had come to an agreement with eight universities in India to introduce the sport, and that the athletes who are signed on, will be given fulltime professionals contracts.
Over 400 players had already been signed by the Indian teams, after the EFLI conducted coaching and training clinic all over the country, this year.
Also speaking at the event EFLI Founder Sunday Zeller, who was excited about the expansion of the game into Sri Lanka, said “(After) The successful launch in India, the launch of EFLI in Sri Lanka is a momentous occasion for us and indeed for the game. American football is an inherent part of the American way of life”.
“With a history of over 100 years, the game has acquired cult status in US, which can be mapped alongside its history. With our entry in South Asian countries, we aim to create American Football as the most lucrative sports league in the South Asian region,” she said, and was convinced that this league will not only be commercially successful, but also will be giving people with limited opportunities in the region a chance for a better life and create countless number of jobs.
Renowned rugby referee Dilroy Fernando, COO EFLI-Sri Lanka, said the league will provide an opportunity to aspiring sportsmen , who don’t get a chance at other sports, to try their hand at this new sport, due to its versatility. He said 84 players had tried out for the Colombo team, and that team was cut down to 45. He also said that the Sri Lankan teams will also sign its athletes to professional contracts, which will pay between 400-500 US dollars per month.
“We are certain that the way rugby became a popular favorite sport in Sri Lanka, American Football will surely win the hearts of the Sri Lankans. Sports as a culture is well-celebrated in Sri Lanka and we see a great demand of such a league in our country. We are very excited to be part of the inaugural season of the EFLI and hope to see a powerful performance from the Colombo Lions,” he said.