We got the view from the players, as Roshan Lobo and Ronit Banda talked to us about their EFLI experience and their journeys through it. But EFLI isn’t just a league, its a concept that has been borne out of a far greater vision as I found out during my conversation with Dr. Venkatesh Movva, President of the EFLI and an expert in Sports Medicine. I got chatting with him as we discussed the league and its operations and also his choice of team:
Doctor, how long has your association with the EFLI been?
You might have known about the origin of the EFLI. We have been with them now for the past couple of years. I was just an investor back then. Also, I acted as the medical director of the league. After the completion of the first season, I took over as the President of EFLI.
So what are the responsibilities you handle in your role as President?
I handle the operations here and also the league’s operations in countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The teams were under the EFLI ownership in the first season. Now they are being sold out to individual owners; was this always the plan or was it something that cropped up as the league progressed?
It was always like that. We wanted to auction off the teams once the league attracted huge interest. Since it is happening now, we are inviting interested parties to take over.
So how many teams have so far been taken over by individual owners?
Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Sri Lanka and Pakistan – five teams have been sold so far. We have prospective buyers lined up for other teams too. Bangalore has one too!
Alright, does the EFLI have a Board of Directors to oversee operations? Perhaps you could tell us a little bit about the decision making for the league.
Yes. We have Richard Whelan- the CEO, Sunday Zeller – the Co-CEO and the founder, myself as the President and Tausif Shiekh – Director for India. The decision making is done by this committee.
Do you have representatives from the teams in the committee?
We have a sub-committee for that purpose which basically comprises of the state coaches, who implement the programs that we chart out. They take a lead in their own way, they also travel outside the states to train the athletes from other universities as a part of our league university program.
Could you also tell us whether you have investors who are coming up to support the league?
Most of the teams have been sold to such private investors. Some of them are in the league. As we move closer towards the next season, we will have more people coming up to invest in the league. We also had an American media interest recently – 60 minutes and Kurt Warner had come to India. We are experiencing significant public and private interest developing recently.
Talking about the first season, have you managed to achieve your early objective of creating a buzz around the league?
Any sporting league needs a lot of support from corporates, communities, sponsorships and endorsements from real athletes, in our case from the NFL ones. So the support we have received has been a testament to the kind of effort we have put in – the infrastructure, coaching and players-wise. It took a while but it is happening now. One thing that is missing is the interest from the Indian investors as the game being unfamiliar to the country, people are not aware of the potential that lies in American football. We have hope though.
Where did your association with the American football start Doctor? Have you been undertaking similar projects back in the US even before?
I do own a team there – the Oklahoma Thunder, a semi-pro football team. So I am kind of involved with sports not just in football, but both medically as well as business-wise, which made the transition easier when I heard about the idea of the EFLI launch in the Indian sub-continent. The association with the EFLI is an extension of what I was doing back in the States.
As far as the concept and the idea went, who did you first hear from about the EFLI coming to India?
I was in India at that moment and read in a newspaper that there was a plan to launch an American football event in India. Through that I came in contact with Robert from the EFLI, who explained the idea in detail. So that was where it all started.
Before your association with the EFLI, were you making frequent trips to India? And now, with the responsibilities that you have as President, how often do you come down?
It used to be once or twice a year. But after becoming associated with the EFLI, I made 4 trips last year. In 2014, it could be more or even less, depending on the amount of work that needs to be done.
We have seen such league based competitions before in IPL, IBL and I-league. Can you shed more light into how the teams have been auctioned in EFLI?
It is a bit different from the IPL or IBL. Structurally it has been the same though, but since the sport is not familiar, we decided to go in a way which will mean most of the franchise fee gets recovered only at the back end. We let the owners grow with us, taking the pressure off the money being spent upfront.
When it comes to revenue sharing – the broadcast, media, sponsorships and local revenue – all gets shared just like the other leagues.