Bringing Countries Together & Making Dreams Come True
The concept seemed simple (and noble) – giving underprivileged young men hope and opportunity by bringing professional American football to countries in South Asia such as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. But the undertaking has been enormous. Backed by high profile NFL pros such as retired quarterback Kurt Warner, hall of famer Mike Ditka and former St. Louis Ram and Green Bay Packer Indian American Brandon Chillar, EFLI’s venture capitalist founders Sunday Zeller and Richard Whelan raised nearly $9 million dollars from a slew of notable investors. But the challenges extended to far greater reaches than even money could quickly resolve. Before the inaugural season began in September 2012, the league had to not only recruit and train the players, but also train the coaches and trainers – all of whom who had little to no concept of American football. The league also had to figure out everything from the logistics of where games would be held given certain travel restrictions between Pakistan and India to when and how they would be broadcast to appeal to a population who had little knowledge of the sport.
So instead of starting off with a bang, the first EFLI season started off with more of a whimper. However, like all passionate ventures, EFLI and its backers are in it for the long haul and like any professional athlete (or venture capitalist) will tell you, one lukewarm (or unprofitable) season doesn’t kill an entire career. EFLI has learned from the challenges of its inaugural season and taken important steps to make the second one that much better in order to grow its local fan base.
Crowning the First Champs & MVP
Although the inaugural season may not have been as popular as EFLI would have liked, the league has been an economic boon to the less privileged young men in the region, giving these future athletes a chance to shine in their home country while earning a salary. These players remain optimistic that EFLI will gain the support and following needed for it and them to succeed in the long run.
Although Pune Marathas was the season one Elite Bowl champion team, it was MVP Roshan Lobo of the Bangalore Warhawks who took over the spotlight, even signing some autographs along the way. Featured in Time Magazine, Lobo has become EFLI’s face of youthful exuberance and hope for the future of American football in India. He even received an invitation to the 2013 ProGrass International Scout Bowl in the U.S. where he was able to play with other football players from around the world and learn more about the sport he only began playing a short time ago.
For the more privileged younger generation who have had the opportunity to leave their home countries to pursue higher education in the U.S., many have returned with a new found love of American football, making them just the right target audience for EFLI to capture and help teach the rules of the games to everyone else. As players, coaches and trainers improve so too will the quality of the games. The challenge will then be educating the rest of the population about the sport and growing a love and loyal following for the teams and players.
Kickstarting an American Sport
Building a league is a multi-layered and complex undertaking which has been made even more difficult by a challenging political environment between India and Pakistan. Instead of playing all the games in Sri Lanka as it did in the inaugural season, home games will be played in India during the second season. EFLI, together with its broadcast partner, Ten Sports, are working together to bring the pre-taped games to broadcast in a shorter timeframe than in the first season. In addition, the league also has plans to expand to other Asian countries.
As part of EFLI’s broader marketing strategy, there is currently a documentary being produced appropriately titled, Birth Of A Sport, that will chronicle the first season of EFLI. Director Evan Rosenfeld and producer Jenna Moshell have been able to fund part of the documentary through the popular crowd-funding website, Kickstarter. The league itself has already captured celebrity supporters – like early Hollywood A-list celebrity investors such as Mark Wahlberg – and garnering additional Bollywood star power support. As EFLI’s season two kickoff draws near (December 2013), there has been speculation of a planned IPO on the New York STOCK EXCHANGE for EFLI, a sign perhaps of an even larger scale expansion plan in the works already to bring the flash of American football to India in full Hollywood and Bollywood style!
Author: Ingrid Shieh is a regular contributor of Business, Social and Entertainment content on Sava360.com.