Last August the third reboot of the XFL was announced with a 2022 restart date, but ongoing collaboration talks with the Canadian Football League have put that launch on hold.
In December, 2018, Ricky Williams formed the Freedom Football League, but more than two and a half years later the FFL has yet to play a game.
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And Major League Football? Hoo boy … founded in 2014, the MLF is entering its seventh consecutive season to not take the field.
So today I want to salute the European League of Football, born on November 4, 2020. While there are countless sports organizations that don’t make it past the announcement stage, the ELF looks as though it’ll go from introduction to market in just over seven months.
Multiple player signings are taking place each day and all eight flagship ELF teams are already on practice fields ahead of next month’s regular season kickoff.
The eight franchises are divided into the North and South divisions. The Berlin Thunder, Hamburg Sea Devils, Leipzig Kings and Panthers Wroclaw compete in the North, while the Barcelona Dragons, Cologne Centurions Frankfurt Galaxy and Stuttgart Surge comprise the South.
The regular season is 10 games over 12 weeks (June 19 through September 5), with each team playing its division foes twice in a home-and-home setup as well as two opponents from the other division using the same format.
Playoffs will take place September 11-12 and the championship game is set for September 26.
“When I was on the line with the Sea Devils, we had some thrilling duels,” ELF Commissioner Patrick Esume, who has NFL as well as NFL Europe coaching experience, said. “Berlin and Cologne are cities with a long-lasting football history and, of course, with target groups of fans who have waited 14 years for this moment. And additionally I also see a great potential with Leipzig as a new franchise location.”
The league is trying to form an historical bridge to its predecessor, which started as the World League of American Football before becoming NFL Europe and finally NFL Europa. Aside from reviving old franchise locales and nicknames (Sea Devils, Thunder, Dragons, Centurions and Galaxy), it hopes to serve as a developmental league for the NFL. However, unlike the original circuit – which stocked rosters mostly with NFL cuts – ELF will go primarily with homegrown players.
Based on information posted in March, two United States imports per team may be on the field at the same time, four are allowed on game day rosters, and 10 additional foreign athletes can be signed.
This week Leipzig inked a pact with wideout Yoshihito Omi, captain of the Japanese National Team, while Hamburg secured a deal with Danish kicker Phillip Friis Andersen, who spent time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019.
“We do not claim to copy NFL Europe, where the teams consisted of fully professional Americans and a few Europeans,” Esume told the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper. “Rarely have these Europeans been local heroes. We turn this construct around and put the local heroes in front … that’s important for us. And because our CEO (Zeljko Karajica) comes from this business as the CEO of Pro 7 Sat 1 (a German media company) and who once brought the NFL to Germany as a TV product, he is as convinced as I am that the fans have a different connection to the franchise when you have local heroes on the teams.”
Just as I like the ratio rule in the CFL that requires a majority number of “national” players on each roster, I think doing something similar in ELF is a great idea. I look forward to following European players and seeing how many become bona fide stars and move on to a higher level.
More importantly, fans in franchise cities should enjoy cheering for athletes they’re familiar with.
But I’m also hopeful that – over time – this league becomes stable and provides fans of alternative football a football alternative worth following. In his interview with Stuttgarter Zeitung, Esume says expansion is already on his mind, with the ultimate goal to reach 24 teams.
“In Germany there are more than 65,000 people who play football – it’s the biggest European football country – so it’s obvious that we begin here,” he said. “London really wants to be a part of it. We want to gradually take the focus away from Germany and establish ourselves throughout Europe, like the Champions League in soccer.”
I have no clue how high the level of play in ELF will be this summer, and frankly am not that concerned about it – especially in Year One. Entertaining games are played at various skill levels, and if the fans enjoy what they see, they’ll keep coming back for more.
“The expectation is huge,” Esume said. “With Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Cologne, Stuttgart, Leipzig, Barcelona and Wroclaw, we have a very attractive field of participants. I expect all teams to play at a high level and expect exciting duels at eye level.”
I hope that’s the case. And unlike other leagues that exist in name only, it looks like we actually will get to see what the ELF has to offer in just over a month.