The inaugural season of the Elite Football League of India began in late September 2012 and should be considered a rousing success by American Football fans all around the region. With eight participating teams: five from India, two from Sri Lanka, and one from Pakistan, the EFLI did an excellent job of incorporating some of the most populated nations in Southeast Asia. While games still have some way to go before they receive the same attendance and attention as the NFL, the fact that a South Asian TV behemoth, Ten Sports, agreed to broadcast the EFLI games is huge.
While Ten Sports CEO Atul Pande says that the EFLI is a low-risk investment for the company, news that the EFLI was broadcasted to 14 different countries in the region and into 170 million homes is an extremely positive sign for a league that could break out any moment. In a region predominantly dominated by soccer (football) and cricket, it will take this type of advertisement and publicity to really generate viewership and support for the league. However, while securing a contract with one of the biggest sports networks in the region is a big step forward, there are still a few restrictions holding this Indian Football League back.
For starters, all games during the first season were played in one stadium. If you want to generate a fan base and a sense of community, it is ideal for your team to have a home stadium that home fans can flock to. The popular American tradition of “tailgating” would also be able to take effect if there were home stadiums. Tailgating is such an important aspect of American football that it is almost impossible for the league to succeed in India without tailgating taking place. As well as that, the use of stadiums as “home bases” for fans is very important. In the United States, home stadiums are considered a sacred ground to fans. They view the stadium as their own and it gives them something to rally around come playoff time and big games. It adds an extra element to the game as you have visiting fans who are determined to out-do the home fans and generate a greater buzz. It ties the community with their respective football team and that is a very important aspect of American Football.
Another shortcoming of the EFLI is the relative inexperience of players. There are currently around 30 players per team in the EFLI, totaling around 240 players in the league. Most of these players are converted rugby players or other athletes who grew up playing another sport. The pay isn’t too substantial, meaning that if EFLI players are offered other positions in the workforce, chances are that they are going to take it. For this to change, the EFLI will need to pay players more as soon as they gain more popularity. As well as that, there will need to be academies and skill camps for American Football so players can learn the sport as a primary one and not as a secondary one.
While it is clear that the EFLI made great strides in their first season with the Ten Sports contract, there are still many areas of improvement for this young league. My own hopes are high for this Indian league; American Football is such a beautiful game I find it hard for it not to capture the hearts and souls of young kids in the same manner that soccer and cricket does. However, expectations are much higher in the Indian community, as EFLI CEO Richard Whalen says, “One day, the Mumbai Gladiators will be worth much more than the New York Yankees”.