LFL, STATE OF THE LEAGUE 2016
“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome”, Arthur Ashe. This has been a quote that I have held close to me over these past 10 years of conceptualizing the LFL, followed by years of trial, setbacks and additional trials.
This past season was our seventh year of operation, a milestone very few, if any, thought we would reach as a sport. When we reflect over these past seven years, our accomplishments have been first-ever milestones for women’s sport, and in many cases, first-ever milestone for an American sport to have been able to produce both international exhibition games and league-play within such a short period of time. It also has become the fastest American sport in history to be broadcast in over 100+ television markets around the world.
Reflecting on the 2016 season, there were many highlights to our season that will stay with us forever, from Dallas’ unbelievable return to the league to Chicago’s improbable run after having to reinvent itself. We also continue to witness athletes uprooting their lives from around the world for the opportunity to come to the States and play the sport or even those athletes residing in the US that are driving across multiple State lines to make team practices. We have truly become the movie, ‘A League of Their Own’.
Each season, all of us who are part of the internal family of the LFL, have a duty and responsibility to further the sport for the next generation of athletes, coaches and league staff. In 2016, there were so many of you who took that task to heart. It starts with the commitment that comes with off-season preparation, witnessing amazing rookies in Austin, Dallas, New England and other cities around the nation commit themselves in ways that challenged each of them physically and mentally, ultimately becoming a better athlete and role model. When reflecting on off-season work, there are many athletes that set a great example, but there were four who truly stood out. These dedicated athletes were Austin Acoustic’s Steph McCormick and Teshay Winfrey who did not miss a single off-season workout or in-season practice. Also, New England Liberty’s duo of Alex Drake and Kristen Beckman, running routes and hills in the freezing Boston winter.
Our coaches have also started to realize the importance of having an off-season program that provides guidance to our athletes on an individual basis, with team meetings, workout sessions, and field work. While the majority of our athletes and coaches continue to push to set higher standards for our game, there are those who continue to simply ‘exist’ and their on-field results speak for themselves.
It will be my role to continue to push those individual coaches, players, and teams that have not yet truly challenged themselves to be great. One of our focuses this off-season will be to create a more competitive Eastern Conference, strengthening franchises like Omaha and New England, which starts with setting a higher standard for coaching and leadership. Being an expansion franchise or a franchise that has yet to find its identity is simply no longer an excuse, not when it has been demonstrated by the Austin Acoustics and Dallas Desires of the LFL, in that greatness, or at least being competitive, can be achieved, if you simply commit yourself.
We will continue to support our existing franchises and their longevity by striving to provide them an opportunity to establish a fan base. In terms of growth, including our current base of franchises, we have another eighteen (18) markets mapped for expansion in the States.
Internationally, we have built the skeleton of what will be LFL Canada and LFL Australia in the coming years. In Europe, we are in early talks with several European countries that have expressed an interest in being part of LFL Europa’s six national teams. Considering how much we are in our infancy, as we aggressively target expansion overseas, we will continue to be met with challenges and setbacks. However, we have also seen international audiences react very favorably to our sport, over 20,000 fans show up for our game in Mexico City, 16,000 in Sydney, and over 12,000 in Melbourne. Asia will be the next frontier for us, the ground-work is already in place with the LFL currently being broadcast throughout Southeast Asia, Japan and China. The next step, will be to bring LFL exhibition games to Asia, as early as 2017.
In 2016, we also witnessed the lowest injury rate of any of our previous seasons of the LFL. Understanding that tackle football is a contact sport, in that injuries are inevitable, it is great to see how many medical professionals around the country have dedicated themselves to our sport. As is the case with many of our teams, the medical groups and our teams have truly formed a family-bond. Medical groups and passionate individual medical professionals like Dr. Mark Webber and his team in Seattle, who have been with us since 2009. Internally, we have a far more sophisticated injury prevention, reporting, diagnosis and treatment program. We will also continue to examine all of our on-field equipment to seek out the next evolution of equipment that will further increase the safety of our athletes.
My office is also committed to continue our push to get our sport, in front of future fans of the sport, in the form of television, smart devices, online and even theatrical. In early 2017, we will start announcing an impressive roster of new LFL media partners that will join our already established base of broadcast partners around the world. Today, there is a 17 year old boy in Bangladesh watching the LFL, another group of friends in Rio gathered around their TVs, and a couple girlfriends in Brussels being introduced to our sport for the first-time.
Right here in the States, we were the first American sport to draw a national television agreement in only its 2nd season of play with MTV Networks, followed by Fuse and more recently NBC Universal. Rest assured that greater broadcaster talks are happening all-around the world. Our fans want us on-air in every market on major broadcaster platforms, which we can appreciate, but we are a sport in its infancy as it relates to television, it will happen in due time. There are some tremendous milestones in television that we will continue to reach in 2017 and beyond.
Alongside the broadcast of our games, our LFL Films unit, with our outside production company partners, will produce the next-generation LFL Reality Series that will be syndicated around the world. We have also secured a significant Hollywood feature film production company partner to bring the LFL sisterhood and experience to the big-screen.
At a recent television meeting in Los Angeles, an executive who a couple of years ago acquired a very well-known mixed martial arts brand for his network, said to me – ‘Close to 80% of your future fan base, does not know you exist today’. That was both a sobering statement and yet an incredibly hopeful one as well, realizing the potential of our game’s reach as we build our television presence, with the priority being to bring our games LIVE to fans.
In an effort to further build the sport and insert our athletes into the mainstream, several consumer retail initiatives will also be formalized in 2017 and 2018 to marry our athletes to major corporate brands via athlete endorsements. We will also highlight the LFL via retail with various fan products such as trading cards, electronics, video gaming, apparel and other products that will further connect our fans to the game.
I will leave you with one more quote that guides me daily, “Being realistic is the most commonly traveled road to mediocrity”, Will Smith. Yes, Will Smith, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, he’s grown up. Point being, I was told to be ‘realistic’ when I spoke of the LFL concept to friends and family back in 2005 and 2006. At the time, I had a very successful career in technology – why dream? Had I followed any of that advice, I would have always wondered “What if”?
I now challenge our league staff, coaches and athletes to ask themselves, “What if”. “What if I dedicate myself fully to the game?” What if I do I become part of the pioneering group that launched a sport for many future generations to be apart of?” “What if my legacy in the sport ultimately becomes something that lives on forever?” Too many of us never BELIEVE that we can become or be part of something far greater than what we are today.
While I continue to challenge our coaches and athletes, I also ask the same of our league staff and especially myself. Fact is, while many have attempted to re-create the LFL with imitation leagues here in the US and all over the world, each of them have failed. Why? Because no one has been willing to make the sacrifices, both personal and professional, nor have they had the vision. Our dedication to the development and betterment of the sport has led to continued improvement of the product on the field, placement of the sport in front of more eyeballs around the world than ever before, making the sport the safest it has ever been and most importantly, as well as creating an environment and culture that leads to amazing experiences and lifetime friendships for our athletes and coaches while developing a sport for our fan base that invokes their passion, for their favorite athletes and teams.
As Bill Belichick would say, ‘“We’re on to 2017”.