It’s hard to imagine a clearer indication of the rise of flag football than this week’s announcement that the Pro Bowl – the National Football League’s (NFL) annual all-star game – will become a showcase of flag football.
For the first time, flag football will replace traditional tackling as the centerpiece of the NFL’s newly revamped week-long celebration of American football, which will be known as the Pro Bowl Games beginning in 2023. .
This bold statement should leave no doubt as to where the NFL sees the future of the sport. It’s flag football and it’s here to stay.
Flag football – the fastest, shortest, most creative, youthful and inclusive format – is the cornerstone of the NFL’s participation and development strategies, both domestically and internationally.
As an inexpensive, safe and easy-to-play version of the game, it’s also the foundation of our Vision28 partnership – a shared commitment between the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) and the NFL to continue to grow American football in the world.
The explosive international growth of American football is undeniable – we’ll see more evidence of that this weekend when the NFL International Series kicks off in London with a game between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The international series grows in popularity every year, giving fans outside the United States a first-hand look at what the NFL does best: unparalleled sports spectacle and a masterclass in fan engagement.
This year brings another new market to Germany – an incredible 800,000 fans signed up to buy tickets for the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Bayern Munich’s iconic Allianz Arena when it was announced .
— NFL Football Ops (@NFLFootballOps) September 27, 2022
There is clearly a significant appetite for the sport.
Globally, there are 400 million NFL fans, 216 million of whom live outside the United States.
The league also has an extraordinary billion social followers across all platforms, while 50% of their instagram subscribers are based abroad.
We are seeing the same growing international enthusiasm for American football at all levels and in all leagues – I was among 43,000 fans at Aviva Stadium in Dublin in August to watch the 2022 NCAA College Football Classic between Northwestern and Nebraska.
This enthusiasm is also true in our IFAF properties, which continue to grow in terms of admissions, quality and competitiveness at an extraordinary rate.
It is an exciting time to be President of IFAF, but we remain relentlessly focused on our priorities as an International Federation.
Our strategy is based on four pillars.
Serve – continuous improvement in governance, putting athletes at the centre.
Inspire – harnessing the power of football to positively impact society in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Compete – build a sustainable portfolio of world-class regional, continental and global events.
Growth – increasing participation, reach, revenue and capacity globally.
In this regard, flag football is also at the heart of IFAF’s development programs.
Flag football is already one of the fastest growing sports in the world, played in over 100 countries by more than 3 million registered players.
Its success owes everything to its accessibility – no skates, no goal posts, no contact, no barriers to entry – as well as the qualities that make it particularly attractive to Gen Z.
To quote one of our best players, Italy’s Nausicaa Dell’Orto: “Flag football is the people’s football.
It is also a unique form of football in that it puts men and women on an equal footing when it comes to opportunities and visibility.
It goes without saying that the uplifting and empowerment of girls and women in the sport of American football must be a top priority.
Alongside our investment in developing grassroots flag football through education and impact projects and strategic partnerships, we are also developing our elite competition structures.
Earlier this year, flag football made its debut at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, providing an exciting global showcase for our elite athletes.
We are now embarking on our biggest cycle of international flag competitions, including full continental representation for the first time in 2023, as we prepare for the 2024 Flag Football World Championships in Finland.
The world’s greatest flag footballers enjoy unprecedented exposure, boosted by IFAF’s close partnership with the NFL, which honored World Games medalists in front of prime-time audiences at the kickoff NFL kickoff in Los Angeles this month.
We also collaborate on a global flag football ambassador program, where our international male and female flag football athletes join forces with some of the biggest names in the NFL – including Russell Wilson, Jalen Hurts, Eli Manning and Dak Prescott – to raise the profile and promote the unique values of the flag and advance its development worldwide.
Visibility is key to growth and using these opportunities to put flag football on the world stage is the best way to grow the sport.
With flag football, we have a vehicle to turn fans into participants, providing real and accessible pathways into the sport for people of all ages, genders and abilities, everywhere.
By harnessing the full power and appeal of the NFL and creating more opportunities and sustainable pathways for participation with the support of our member federations at the national, continental and global levels, we have a golden opportunity to attracting hundreds of millions of men, women, boys and girls from around the world to come out and play American football.