Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan will be setting a new record, not because of his acting, but for his basketball skills. He will be the first Indian participant at the NBA All-Star Celebrity game.
The Elite Football League of India is holding the Jaipur Cup tackle and flag football tournament at Poornima University in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.
From October 1 to October 4 a total of six tackle teams and 16 men’s and women’s flag football teams will compete in the first annual Jaipur Cup.
“The old saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”! This applies to anything and everything that has become great in the world. The NFL is nearly 100 years in the making, the NCAA is over 100 years old. It has taken decades to establish them as the powerhouses they are. We are less than a decade into our endeavor and making great headway – but we aren’t there yet. These things take time to build the right relationships and develop the proper ways… but I truly believe, based on the incredible progress and excitement we are generating, we are well on our way.”
The EFLI has a good feeder system set up across the country, with their latest All India inter University tournament that took place in March of 2018 in MDU, Rohtak . The organization has also set up various free camps across the country.
In 2018, so far ELFI has organized two Certificate camps, one at Lovely Professional University, Punjab and the other at Poornima University, Rajasthan.
Lured by the booming business of television sports, the nation's first professional football league tries to turn amateurs into gridiron heroes.
IT'S FOOTBALL SEASON IN INDIA, AND the music is thumping as the Delhi Defenders and the Pakistan WoIfpak prepare for kickoff. This is the first season of the Elite Football League of India (EFLI), and the match is being beamed by satellite to some 70 million homes across India. "This is a very potent Delhi squad. They should score a lot of points: the announcer predicts. Delhi would score three times to win 21-0. “Today a new rivalry in a new sport is born."
So new, in fact, that this was only the third game anyone on the field had ever played. And yet this fledgling football league, showcasing players who have never played the game professionally to viewers who have never really watched it, sold the broadcast rights to the whole season to the satellite channel TEN Sports. The EFLI's founder, Sunday Zeller, and CEO, Richard Whelan, had just one notable sports venture behind them the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League-but the promise of tapping into India's huge potential fan base was enough to lure investors, including NFL Hall of Famer Mike Ditka. ”With no TV, there’s no money there," says Zeller. "Our focus was, we need the league in every home, every living room, in India.”
The EFLI's fast start is the latest sign of the country's expanding appetite for televised sports. The number of Indian households with a television has almost doubled over the past decade, to 116 million in 2011, surpassing the 114 million U.S. homes with a TV. The market for advertising on Indian TV, meanwhile, is expected to double, to $4.4 billion, by 20I5, and advertisers are desperate to reach viewers with any programming available-even gridiron football. The result is a mix that's part SportsCenter highlight reel and part reality TV. "That's the only way it's going to be successful." says Whelan. "If you want to make money in India, you have to make sports that are TV-worthy."
A Cure for Cricket Fatigue
THE FIRST OF INDIA'S MADE-FOR-TV SPORTS was cricket-not the meandering, fiveday-long matches between gentlemen in white but the Indian Premier League (IPL), which repackaged cricket as entertainment. It shortened the games and relied as much on star quality as quality play, selling several franchises to Hollywood stars .Before a single match was played, the league signed a I0-year, $1 billion broadcasting deal with Sony in 2008. "The IPL brought on a sea change in the perception of the business of sports," says Jamie Stewart, head of Commune Sports & Entertainment, a sports-marketing firm in New Delhi "Suddenly people saw potential for sports as a business."
Broadcasters used that advertising base to expand into other sports. The audience for soccer, for example, almost doubled from 2008 to 2010, reaching 155 million, according to Mumbai-based TAM Media Research. The English Premier League consistently ranks second in weekly sports-TV ratings in India's cities. The cost of broadcast rights in South Asia for the soccer World Cup rose from $2.5 million for the 2002 Cup to $42 million for 2010. That cemented soccer's reputation as the best way to command an audience of young, affluent Indians, who are most likely to show signs of cricket fatigue and switch to another sport. "That's the generation that spends the most time watching TV and buying products," says Smita Jha, head of entertainment and media at PricewaterhouseCoopers India. "This is the same set of people whose incomes are rising, and this extra income is spent on leisure."
Who Needs Spectators?
IF YOUNG INDIANS WILL WATCH ENGLISH football, why not American football? Whelan figured that they care more about the entertainment value of a game than whether they grew up playing it. The EFLI set up five teams in India's biggest cities, as well as one in Pakistan and two in Sri Lanka, so it could sell regional broadcast rights.
The U.S. broadcasting model views live sports as programming, but the EFLI turns that notion on its head. The entire season of 23 games, plus playoffs and championship, was played during August in an empty stadium in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The EFLI taped all the games and then created programming out of them. EFLI broadcasts resemble U.S. pro games in a hurry, edited so there are no huddles, no time-outs and no waiting around. "Live is an old-fashioned model," says Whelan. "We didn't give a damn about selling tickets. What? Are we going to sell 20,000 tickets?"
TEN Sports was already experimenting with new sports and saw the EFLI as a low-cost, low-risk investment, says CEO Atul Pande. In exchange for an initial 75% share of the advertising revenue-in EFLI broadcasts, unlike NFL ones, commercials appear as a crawl or to the side during play-the network agreed to a five-year deal to air the games to 14 countries in the region and reach some 170 million homes. The league expects to generate profits after the first two years.
It's an unproven strategy. Because fans did not have a chance to watch the games live, it's hard to build local support for the home team. The EFLI is betting that's not the only way to create a football hero. Its answer to Tim Tebow is a 20-year-old native of Bangalore named Roshan Lobo. Before joining the Bangalore Warhawks as a backup running back this year, Lobo had never seen an NFL game. Everything he knew about the sport, he learned from Hollywood movies like The Waterboy and YouTube clips of the NFL "When you have the ball, you just need to run away from people," Lobo says. When the EFLI's first games aired in September, Lobo was the starter-in no small part because two other running backs quit after they got full-time government jobs.
What the players lack in experience, the EFLI makes up for in production value. The league brought in its own camera crews, announcers and producers, so the televised broadcasts, unlike the actual play, have the slick professionalism of Monday Night Football. The league has also packaged preview clips, including interviews with Lobo and other players, as well as coaches, who talk about Lobo as if he is the next Lionel Messi. "Lobo is like Bo Jackson. Lobo knows football," says a coach. A commentator gushes, "The coaches told me this guy's going to be a star, and he has become a huge star."
There is another way to create a hero: develop a real Indian Messi or Yao Ming from the ground up. That's what the global sports consultancy IMG is trying to do with basketball in India. In 2010, IMG partnered with the Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries in a 30-year deal with the basketball federation and a 15-year deal with soccer's governing body to invest more than $200 million in sports infrastructure. In return, IMG owns the commercial rights to the domestic soccer league, including the TV licensing rights, and the right to sell basketball in India.
Developing enough players to fill out a professional-quality league will require a vast increase in participation. Basketball has one advantage: it's played widely in Indian schools, so IMG is giving hoops a boost, offering scholarships to promising players to live and train in the U.S. In a country of 1.3 billion, IMG needs to find only one Yao. "A single athlete can singlehandedly create an entire industry that didn't exist before," says Bobby Sharma, head of worldwide basketball development at IMG. "That's not lost on us."
Lobo is hedging his bets. He will train for next season but has a backup plan. "I'm searching for a job because I'm not sure about football getting famous in India," he says. Lobo may not be much of a football player yet, but he is already a star. Soon after the Bangalore Warhawks' EFLI debut, he signed his first autograph.
Roshan Lobo never played football before he turned pro earlier this year. Growing up in Bangalore, Lobo often played soccer or cricket with his friends at school. He even tried his hand at riflery before moving onto rugby. But when it came to his new profession, Lobo's only football role model wasn't Peyton Manning or Barry Sanders - it was Adam Sandler in the movie the Waterboy.
It's not your average pedigree for a pro football player at any level, anywhere. But when Lobo heard that an American football league - the Elite Football League India (EFLI) - was set to open in India this year, he decided to try out. And when Lobo was selected for the Bangalore Warhawks team, it set the 20-year-old on an unexpected trajectory that the upstart American football league would like for itself.
For the Warhawks, Lobo was initially a third-string running back, but when the two players ahead of him opted for jobs with the Indian government, Lobo found himself as the franchise's starter. Without any experience, to learn to play the position, he turned to the internet. "I would go on Youtube and watch the best running backs and the best running plays. That's how I learned to do the high step," says Lobo. A quick study, when the EFLI's first games aired on national television in India in September, Lobo was not just in the backfield, he had become the posterboy of the league itself.
A matchup between the Bangalore Warhawks and the Delhi Defenders, however, is a long way from the glitz or talent of a Thanksgiving Day Redskins-Cowboys grudge match. But the EFLI is banking on stars, like Lobo, to propel the sport from a curiosity to must-see TV in India. "We'll do what India doesn't know how to do, we'll build stars," says EFLI CEO Richard Whelan.
First, however, the EFLI had to build a league from the ground up. With eight franchises across India, as well as in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the league set out trying to lure viewers to their TV sets, rather than fans to the actual games. The EFLI is the latest entrant into the growing market for sports in India, particularly on television. Driven by advertisers looking to woo India's new generation of young, more affluent consumers, Indian cable networks are on the prowl to find sports beyond cricket.
But trying to sell a new sport featuring players that are as new to the game as the viewers isn't easy. To make the games more suitable to the Indian audience, the EFLI shortened the games. To cram a full 3-hour American football game experience into a one-hour time slot, the entire season was played in a single empty stadium in Sri Lanka, recorded and pre-packaged for TV. That meant that the EFLI could keep the games short by cutting such frivolities as huddles and timeouts. With the entire season in the can, it also made it easier to pick which players it should promote. To help create a season storyline from scratch, the league also produced slick documentaries of each team.
On the Bangalore Warhawks team video, one coach compares Lobo to Bo Jackson, one of the NFL's most-talented, if short-lived, stars. Lobo isn't quite there yet. The level of play on the field looks more like a high school game than an Indian equivalent of the NFL. On TV, however, the EFLI makes the most of it. A dozen camera angles with earnest play-by-play announcers make it feel like the Monday Night Football crew went to the wrong stadium.
On the field Lobo's first season was a success. He won the league's MVP award. He even signs autographs. That may not put him in the glamour class of Indian cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar or on the playing level of Bo Jackson, but Lobo's hoping that with enough viewers, the league will stick and he'll got another shot next season. If not, he says, he'll go to graduate school.
By Elliot Hannon Nov. 28, 2012
A version of this article appeared in print on December 5, 2012, in the New York Times on page B11 of the New York edition with the headline: A Football Play for India.
On a recent Saturday morning, nearly 20 players from the Mumbai Gladiators football team went through their weekly drills and scrimmage at the popular Juhu Beach, in the suburbs north of this sprawling city of 14 million.
Dressed in red T-shirts and black shorts, the players engaged in a 90-minute practice that resembled a touch football game among friends rather than a gathering of professionals chasing dreams of fame and fortune. Elderly people and families out for walks appeared confused as they passed by. One couple approached the men to ask what game they were playing.
So it goes for the hundreds of athletes trying to catch on with the Elite Football League of India, a new and curious venture aimed at introducing American football to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and other countries in Asia. It is a perhaps quixotic undertaking, but it could prove to be lucrative should the game achieve some measure of popularity within the vast population of potential fans.
“When you first watch the games, it’s laughable,” said Richard Whelan, one of the founders and co-chief executive of the league. “But if you watch it for more than five minutes, you want to know how it ends. It’s an absolute joke compared to the N.F.L. But it’s not a joke compared to anything else on Indian sports television, and that’s all we’re going up against.”
India has no indigenous version of football, but many of the players on the beach were successful athletes in other sports, including judo, basketball and kabaddi, a team sport in which players hold their breath and grapple with one another. Several Gladiators said they had been only dimly aware of football, though they knew of films like “The Longest Yard” and “Any Given Sunday.” None of them had played even so much as a down of the game before starting training camp a year ago in Mumbai and Pune, about 100 miles to the southeast.
“We didn’t even know it was called American football,” said Linesh Mane, a 24-year-old defensive back and former basketball player. “We thought it was rugby.”
He added, “It’s much more difficult than rugby.”
The players on the beach were actually on an off-season break, after the league’s inaugural season, which was played over about six weeks in the summer and broadcast this fall. The team was working out at the decidedly non-gridiron-like setting because it does not have its own field. Shailesh Devrukhkar, the head coach and a former rugby player and former police commando deployed in sensitive situations like hostage negotiations, expected the team to rent one when it began preparing in earnest for next season, which is expected to begin in the spring.
Under Whelan’s frenzied leadership, the league has raised $8.5 million from investors, including Kurt Warner, the retired N.F.L. quarterback, and Brandon Chillar, a former St. Louis Ram and Green Bay Packer of Indian descent, and he is confident others investors will come on board. To keep costs to a minimum, the league stopped paying its players in the off-season and, in the first season, dispensed with stadiums, tickets, tailgating and other trappings of the American football experience. Instead, the league’s eight teams played an entire season’s worth of games at a stadium in Colombo, Sri Lanka, which was chosen partly so the Pakistani team could play Indian teams without traveling to India. Hourlong tapes of each game were shown on television over a three-month period.
The Elite Football League of India will ditch that strategy in its second season, when games in several Indian cities will be televised live. Despite the low level of play, the league’s founders claim that millions of people are interested in American sports and will watch if Indians and Pakistanis are competing, even though most Indians do not even know the league exists and cricket remains far and away the most popular sport in the country.
Whelan and his partners are not the first to try to promote Western sports in India, where most schools and colleges give short shrift to athletics. The N.B.A. opened an office in Mumbai last year and has sent stars like Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol to the country to promote the game. It recently signed a new broadcast deal to have its games shown in the country. The N.F.L. is still trying to secure a television deal, but it sells a subscription-based online package for fans who want to watch games.
IMG, the sports agency, formed a venture with Reliance Industries with an aim of creating soccer and basketball leagues in the country. An existing soccer league, called the I League, has a relatively small following among the urban elite and in a few eastern and southern states.
Even so, many fans prefer to watch English or Spanish soccer rather than the local alternative. Manchester United, the immensely popular English soccer club, has opened cafes and started training programs here to attract more young Indian fans.
Even the Indian Premier League, which plays a shortened format of cricket matches, has struggled after a rousing start in 2007. The league has been troubled by accusations of corruption that forced out its flamboyant founder and chief executive, Lalit Modi. Recently, the league expelled one of its eight teams, the Deccan Chargers, after its owner failed to pay fees and royalties.
Still, interest in and spending on sports ranging from soccer to Formula One racing appear to be growing. At the London Olympics, India won six medals, the most ever, and its returning medalists were greeted like conquering heroes and have become national celebrities. Generating excitement about a sport that people see on television but do not play in their towns is another matter. The league requires its players to visit schools each week to promote the game, but turning those efforts into a profit may take years.
“The biggest challenge we faced was educating people about the rules, as it can be very complex game,” said Oliver Luck, the former commissioner of N.F.L. Europe, which folded in 2007. “Men don’t grow up playing the game, so there’s no reservoir of knowledge to tap into.”
Ultimately, Luck said, fans want to see high-quality competition, no matter what the game, and in India that means cricket. The E.F.L.I. did not help itself with its low-key start. There were few major events to mark the first season, and Indian newspapers and television stations have given it sparse coverage.
Venkat Ananth, a sports columnist in India for Yahoo, said he only learned of the league while switching channels on his TV. Ananth said he found the game interesting, but added that the league would not gain much of an audience unless it started playing games in Mumbai and other large cities and perhaps bringing N.F.L. players and teams here for exhibition games.
“You can’t impose a sport on the Indian audience,” he said. “You have to build it up. Bring your stars here, play one of those games like they do in England. Otherwise, there is no point.”
One potential audience could be the tens of thousands of young people who have spent time in the United States. Amit Paranjape, a 41-year-old software entrepreneur who studied at the University of Wisconsin and lived in Dallas for 12 years, is a fan of the Packers and the Cowboys. He was excited when he learned about the league but was disappointed that none of the games would be played in Pune, where he lives and which has an E.F.L.I. team, the Marathas.
Later, he found the league’s games on television, but he said he changed the channel after a few plays because the level of competition was less compelling than an American high school football game.
“It was like a bad dream,” he said.
Indeed, in E.F.L.I. games, quarterbacks frequently throw wobbly passes that are often dropped or intercepted. In a game between the Gladiators and the Colombo Lions, a Lions running back who apparently thought he had reached the end zone spiked the ball on the 4-yard line. One of his teammates recovered the ball and scored, but the Lions missed the extra point. A Gladiators receiver then fumbled the ball on the ensuing kickoff.
Atul Pande, the chief executive of Ten Sports, which is broadcasting the league’s games, said viewership had been “negligible” and he “would be surprised if even 10,000 homes are watching.” The numbers are so small that the network, which broadcasts many games at 11:30 a.m. on weekends, has not tried to sell ads. Most commercial breaks feature promotions for other sports and programs on the network.
Still, Pande said he would honor the network’s five-year agreement with the league. He said his network wanted to help build new sports leagues in India so that his company could sell ads for more than just cricket.
“For the TV product to be sustainable you need an around-the-year multiple-product offering,” he said. Whelan and others at the E.F.L.I. are betting that the weak play will be overshadowed by the stories off the field. To that end, they have hired Ed Goren and Sandy Grossman, who produced N.F.L. games for decades.
Grossman said the league planned to add more pageantry to its broadcasts and was talking with executives in Bollywood, which is famous for producing movies featuring lavish dance scenes. For now, he is focused on teaching his staff where to point the cameras. “I had to talk to a lot of different crews who had never seen football before,” he said. But “the guys playing, what they lack in quality of play, they make up in enthusiasm.”
Many players found the sport by chance. Rahul Kelaskar, a 24-year-old wide receiver for the Gladiators, was recruited when Whelan spotted him working at a hotel in Mumbai. Kelaskar is 6 feet 5 inches but weighs 125 pounds, earning him the nickname Sticks from his coaches.
Despite knowing little about the sport and over the opposition of his parents, with whom he lives, Kelaskar quit his 30,000-rupee-a-month ($555) job at the hotel to join the Gladiators, who pay their players about 15,000 rupees ($277) a month.
Despite the league’s shaky prospects, Kelaskar dreams of becoming “the Jerry Rice of India” and is convinced that he made the right choice.
“I have age in my hand,” he said. “If I play for three years and if the league doesn’t work, I can come back into the corporate field and maybe I will struggle to find a job but I will be O.K.”
Players from less privileged backgrounds are attracted by the league’s salaries. Mane, the defensive back, earned about 10,000 rupees working for an insurance company, and Abhishek Desai, a 24-year-old wide receiver and cornerback, earned about 5,500 rupees a month on a kabaddi team sponsored by a government-owned oil company.
Desai and Mane said they were unsure about their future and the league’s but were hoping to take exams next year to finish their college degrees.
“If this keeps going well, that would be the best thing,” Mane said as he sipped tea on the sideline at the practice. “We would like to keep at it.”
Still, Mane and several teammates said they were concerned that the league had not played exhibition games and taken other steps to market the game.
“You need to have a promotions strategy,” said Preetesh Balyaya, a 26-year-old offensive lineman on the Gladiators. He said he still believed in the league’s founders and did not mind not being paid in the off-season. Unlike many other players, Balyaya has a family business to return to if football does not pan out.
“Money is not a big thing,” he said. “You can’t run behind money. You have to run behind passion.”
Vikas Bajaj reported from Mumbai, India, and Ken Belson from New York. Neha Thirani contributed reporting.