Tackle football is the most popular sport in the United States, but the sport of flag football has made tremendous gains in the past couple years, both locally and abroad. While fear of concussions has been cited as a factor in the sport’s resurgence, and reasonably so as parents flock to keep their kids involved but in a less dangerous environment, it’s not the only driving force behind the sports revival.
A new breed of leadership has been quietly making huge gains in the United States with their organizations working to take the sport to new heights, positioning flag football a big-time player in the sports tourism world and growing rapidly.
The Rebirth of NFL Flag
NFL Flag has been the premier organization for youth flag football for a long time, hosting a small series of regionals every fall feeding into their Youth National Championships in cooperation with the Pro Bowl. Last January, leadership of the NFL Flag program transitioned from USA Football to Reigning Champs Experiences, who are known for their college camps, combines and youth sports leagues with partners including the NFL, Jr. NBA, Rivals, Adidas and many others. With new ownership and direction, the NFL Flag program plans to expand their events into other markets and figures to be a big player in the sports tourism industry.
NFL Flag currently boasts over 500,000 youth participants in its’ league program and estimates around 10,000 athletes competing in it’s tournament circuit each year, with a plan to double their events offered this year from 8 to 16, and up to 32 NFL markets by 2023.
Reigning Champs made a big splash almost immediately after taking over by announcing a new Chairman of NFL Flag in the form of Super Bowl winning quarterback Russell Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks. Wilson’s focus will be on strengthening NFL FLAG domestically, as well as expanding the league internationally, while helping support league development and increasing youth participation, especially among girls. Russell will make his first official appearance as Chairman at the NFL FLAG Summit in Nevada during the NFL Draft, where he’ll speak to NFL FLAG leagues from across the U.S. about new initiatives aimed to better support teams and expand NFL FLAG’s global footprint.
Russell Wilson has worked with flag football organizations in China, Brazil, Canada, and the United Kingdom to help spread awareness of the sport and get athletes engaged in the game, and he’ll continue to connect with local communities and inspire youth at an international level as he helps expand NFL FLAG worldwide.
“Russell will be an invaluable player on our team as we work to make NFL FLAG more accessible to boys and girls across the U.S. and around the world. His passion for the sport is undeniable and he will serve as a great champion for NFL FLAG, helping inspire more youth athletes to get in the game.” – Reigning Champs Spokesperson
With a combination of new leadership, some major star power and a renewed focus on expansion into new markets, we anticipate NFL Flag becoming a very popular name in the sports tourism industry very quickly moving forward.
National Flag Football’s Expansion
National Flag Football is another youth flag football league and tournament organization that has jumped into the sports tourism world in the last 2 years. Their first youth leagues launched in 2006 with two locations in Michigan and now feature over 130 leagues in 13 states and more than 50,000 participants and expanding every year into new markets.
National Flag Football plays host to the largest youth flag football tournament in the world each January. This year, the National Flag Football Championships partnered with NFL Flag to host the first ever NFL Flag Bowl presented by Subway and was a huge success!
In 2006, National Flag Football launched their first National Championship tournament featuring 34 teams in Florida, and now operate 2 Nationals and close to 40 total tournaments featuring over 1,100 teams and 10,000 athletes along nationwide. Last January in 2020 they held their largest National Championship ever, eclipsing the 200 team mark in Tampa for their stay-to-play event.
Bryan Ledin of National Flag Football had this to say about their success.
“National Flag Football is experiencing tremendous growth. We are finding that players, particularly in middle school are now playing flag football longer than before. Middle School players are understanding that flag football is a critical layer of their foundation for success at the next level. Due to the fast-paced, yet non-contact format of the game players are developing the necessary skill sets to excel in high school. Quarterbacks must be quick with their decision making yet precise with their passes. Wideouts must be sharp and explosive with their routes while defensive backs must focus on their footwork and hips.”
In addition to the general growth of their leagues and tournaments, they are also seeing growth of another kind in the form of girls participation.
“We are seeing a huge interest in girls’ flag football. We are working with the Miami Dolphins and Miami Dade and Broward county to launch a girls-only initiative,” Bryan said.
Parents at the youngest of ages are looking for alternatives to tackle football. A safe, convenient, affordable, yet fun way to learn the game, while improving their skills are really what many are our families are searching for. We are incredibly excited to work with both Russell Wilson and Reigning Champs Experiences who now oversee the NFL Flag program. With their commitment to athlete safety, enhanced football experiences, and worldwide expansion, this sport is going to explode!
In addition to working collaboratively with Reigning Champs and their new role managing the NFL Flag program, FFWCT and National Flag Football, two of the largest flag football organizers in the country, are also seeking out ways to work together to change the landscape of flag football in both the adult and youth marketplace.
FFWCT Pushing Boundaries in Adult Flag Football
The Flag Football World Championship Tour (FFWCT) opened for business in 2015 and has made their presence felt in a big way ever since. FFWCT operated its’ first in-house tournament October of 2016 with 50 traveling teams, shortly after making their first appearance in the sports tourism world. They have grown rapidly since, recently setting a record for the sport with over 610 teams in attendance last January at their Orlando World Championships, notching north of 10,000 room nights and over 5 million dollars in expected economic impact for the county according to Experience Kissimmee. The event is also soon to be aired in (2) one hour episodes nationally featuring Sea World as their title sponsor. Just this January the event was home to over 400 youth and adult teams despite the travel restrictions and issues faced by Covid that has affected many event organizers worldwide.
“We have been extremely blessed with the growth of the sport and our organization allowing us to do what we love while helping progress flag football to new heights.” Charles Davis, Co-Founder of FFWCT said. “We have a lot more in-store for 2021 and beyond and look forward to more opportunities to improve along the way!”
Their 2021 schedule is already set, with regional, major and national flag football tournaments spread across the country with over 2,000 teams expected to participate and tens of thousands of athletes in attendance from around the world.
For 2022, the FFWCT recently announced they’ll be moving their World Championships from Panama City Beach to Tampa and partnering with Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, and expanding the event format, prizes and overall experience by hosting it at the new Tournament Sportsplex of Tampa Bay.
“Tampa has so much to offer our players, the fantastic new facility with state of the art fields and amenities, more control over the event experience, great housing options and a partnership with Busch Gardens Tampa Bay that will help us continue to grow with other exciting ways we’re looking to add on to the event in future years!” – Charles Davis, Co-Founder of FFWCT
The AFFL working toward Professionalization and Pay Equity
The most recent player in the game to make a huge splash is the American Flag Football League. From day one, they announced a one million dollar prize purse to the winner of the men’s division, televised their games on the NFL Network, brought in huge former NFL stars to compete and brought a whole new level of excitement to the sport.
Recently they announced their commitment to pay equity by providing a professional outlet for women as well to participate starting Summer of 2021. This year they will be offering a $200,000 grand prize to both the men’s and women’s division which would be the largest in history for the women by far.
“We are proud to make Flag the first sport to institute pay equity from day one. How could we even consider playing football without a level playing field?” stated Jeffrey Lewis, CEO and Founder of the American Flag Football League. “Our Women’s Division will feature exceptional female athletes from all over the world. The grassroots Flag community has always epitomized the inclusivity and diversity that so much of society has struggled to achieve. Once we made the commitment to introduce the Women’s Division to the world, there was no question that our Grand Prizes would be equal.”
With the rebirth of NFL Flag, expansion of National Flag Football and explosion of Flag Football World Championship Tour’s events, their willingness to explore ways to work together to grow the sport worldwide and a mutual desire to see the sport of flag football achieve Olympic inclusion, we believe this is one sport that has officially arrived and will continue to put out more and more major travelling events as a mainstay in the sports tourism industry. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!