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Flag Football is Going Pro

By April 26, 2022July 7th, 2022No Comments

The AFFL's Vision for Flag Football as Pro Sport

The American Flag Football League (AFLL) has over 7 million players worldwide, and aims to become a leader in one of the world’s fastest growing team sports. JUSTLY’s Aruna Inalsingh discusses the continued growth and worldwide popularity of the sport with AFFL’s Vice President of Football Operations, Chris Harris.

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Video Transcript

well chris we are absolutely delighted

to have you join us today

um

we’re we’re excited because we’ve done a

number of uh these interviews with

issuers on the platform

but we’ve never had anybody as as fun

and engaged as the the membership of

american flag football league

so

why don’t we go ahead and get started by

me asking you some questions about affl

and let me kick off by talking about

introducing you so chris harris is the

vice president of football operations

for american flag football league

uh he’s been involved as i was joking to

him a bit of

of jack of all trades on all different

with all different responsibilities so

why don’t we start with you telling us a

little bit about yourself and how you

got involved in affl

well thank you for having me on board um

i’m excited to talk about everything we

have going on in this organization in

the future of flag football and

professional sports so once again thank

you

so look

so a little bit about the american flag

football league it’s been around for

almost five years now and it originally

started as a high

dollar prize

tournament between men and women in the

fort in the sport of flag football

we are now transitioning

the sport to be the first professional

organization

in flag football anywhere in the world

that’s never happened before

so it’s super exciting to now have our

league that’s had so much success and

visibility in raising the profile of

flag football to now transition into a

professional sport

so i just i love that um

makes me think about

how many doors are opened when you talk

about flag football

and so i’m curious about

who when when it really started so to

speak

was was it any specific target audience

in mind like who who were you expecting

to give this opportunity to

so the awesome thing about flag football

is that it’s the fastest growing team

sport in the world so there’s about 7.1

million participants in the sport

worldwide which means there’s a lot of

people to pick from when it comes to

trying to drive it to a professional

level um compared to tackle football

this accessibility of flag football is

so much easier because you don’t have to

buy helmets and shoulder pads and all

these equipment right or you just need a

flag and that’s pretty in a football and

that’s pretty much it so

also what leads to

the participation numbers is the safety

of flag football and tackle as we know

there’s a lot of concerns with ctes and

long-term injuries and how that can

affect

adults as well as youth

so our youth participation in our youth

league is also huge and now

with transitioning into the pro segment

we actually are the first organization

and flag that has

a vertically integrated site

from youth sports to the pros

that’s incredible and then of course i

always think about gender

so are there women that are also

involved in flag football and and how is

that playing out in the rollout of the

league

absolutely women are a very integral

part in what we’re doing in the affl um

a lot of our early on success is due to

the participation of women in our

organization in some of our streaming

and we stream some of our events on

platforms like facebook and also on cbs

we i mean uh cbs nfl network and um some

of the highest ratings that we’ve had

actually involve the women who’ve been

in competition

so

making sure

um

women are participating in our brand of

football is super important and as we

transition our men to the pro league

we’ll be doing the same thing and

following that blueprint for our women

in the 2024 season

i love it so it’s it’s it’s young people

it’s continuous development it’s it’s

gender balanced i think

it’s a very very

open access type of program which gets i

think everybody excited because we know

that the nfl itself has gotten everybody

inspired around football

as has ncaa et cetera et cetera et

cetera

um

so one of the things that intrigues me

is i believe you said 7.1 million

members okay that’s such a huge number

and i think it’s been about five years

so it’s not a huge amount of time so how

did even manage to to attract people to

the program has it been organic or was

there some sort of you know plan in

place from the very beginning

well the 7.1 million is actually

worldwide participation in the sport but

as far as the affairs itself we do have

a great participation and it starts with

our youth program okay so we have a

youth program that has satellite um

teams around the country and they

participate in flag football tournaments

around the entire country and then

there’s a national championship that

happens every year that brings everybody

all together

and then we also have what a lot of

people have seen on

national tv has been our men’s

tournaments where our men’s and amateur

tournaments actually participate 64 32

teams in these tournaments that there’s

a prize money at the end of it and then

the claim and the title to be a champion

and we have also done the same thing

with our women so all of that growth and

all of that participation has happened

underneath the umbrella of the affl

brand but the only thing that has been

missing is the professional aspect

you’ll see a lot of other sports that

actually have a professional entity that

allows players to be paid and

participate and flag football is the

only organization or the only sport that

didn’t have that so we are now providing

that to help grow so we’re not going to

abandon

our amateur ranks we’re still going to

participate in in amateur sports we’re

still going to have our amateur

tournaments because we feel that’s the

lifeblood of what we do but

we want to provide the average joe right

the average joe the opportunity to

become a professional because a lot of

times when you think about let’s just

say tackle football in the nfl such an

amazing brand that it is right

there’s a line of you know sometimes

kids play flag football when they’re

young because their parents are

concerned about safety and getting their

children hurt then somewhere along the

lines some may participate in pop warner

football with pads

or as they get a little bit older in the

high schools they’ll get into tackle

football

so now there’s a direct line from there

to going to college and on the college

level guys can participate and tackle

and then there’s some development

leagues that happen once upon a time the

nfl had nfl europe

but now

everybody knows when they think about

football american football they think

about the nfl that pro league well we

have that same type of transition you

have

the youth

can transition now

into the adult amateur tournaments but

after that there’s a void there’s no

professional space for them to

participate in and then now with the

popularity of flag football growing

and

the safety concerns of individuals we

are now

starting to see high schools and

universities and other clubs adapt flag

football into their programming because

they want to provide them a safe

alternative to tackle football

yeah so so really truly there was a big

almost like a partnership with schools

and leagues that sounds like that

developed over time moving into

competition which had some

recognition and awards and financial

incentives

this growth that you’ve seen has been so

amazing i mean moving into professional

is a big jump a very different model um

so i’m guessing you must have some sort

of plan that you’re following so you

know where you’re going to be you know

let’s make it up in the next five years

right absolutely tell us a little bit

about what that plan looks like and

you know

what your

you know

what sort of successes you’re expecting

to see over the next five years awesome

so there’s multi-levels multi-levels to

that so first is with our youth program

we’ll continue to

grow our youth program and its footprint

around the country all right so we’ll

continue to there’s a lot of people

inquiring about getting the affl style

of flag football into their different

communities so we’re growing that which

is building the awareness of our brand

and it’s building the participation

within our brand because the affl style

is a little bit different um there’s

many different types of flag football

some are five-man

but we are seven on seven and we don’t

have any linemen um in our competition

so people are starting to adapt to our

style of play

then from there

um we transition into the amateur and

then the pros and then that pro

footprint starts now we’ve actually

already started announcing the cities

that are going to be our inaugural

cities that are going to host the men’s

professional teams um today i think we

just announced dallas texas as one of

the teams so super excited about you

know getting the word out to these

communities that we’re going to have

professional football in your towns

so once we announce the cities then

we’re going to announce our tryout

schedule right and it’s going to be a

combine style tryout and the awesome

thing about this is that a lot of times

when people think about pros they’re

assumed that we’re just going to get

guys that played in the nfl or no longer

play in the nfl that are retirees and

they just kind of want to show that they

still got it and yes there is an

opportunity for those guys to come into

our pro league and play but this is more

about you know that guy who’s a weekend

warrior the average joe the guy who

works at the grocery store who’s a

teacher or who or who’s the personal

trainer at the gym

given these people who are die-hard flag

football enthusiasts the opportunity to

become a professional so you’re going to

get a great mix of competition and a

great blend of both within each of the

teams

so once we have those combines all those

guys going to get together the coaches

are going to pick their teams and then

they’re just going to go out there and

compete so we’re going to have our first

initial five teams and in the year after

that we’re gonna start growing and

expanding our league into various cities

adding more teams within those cities

and then we’re gonna start the

transition of pushing our women’s to the

professional rank

that’s fantastic and so chris when

you’re starting um your professional

teams how many teams are you expecting

to be in the league i might have missed

that

so right now we have five initially and

we’re expecting the projection within

the next five years to have at least 24

teams so we’re expecting some really you

know explosive growth because of the

accessibility right and the success that

we’ve been able to have as a brand um

just in allowing us to grow rapidly and

even with the announcement of our teams

we’ve been getting a lot of interest in

people picking cities hey i want to

start a team here hey i want to start a

team here and that’s what you want to

see like you know sometimes you got to

say hold on we’re going to get there but

that’s what you want to see so we’re

really excited for the enthusiasm about

what we’re bringing to the table and and

the expectation of growth that we have

for ourselves

i um

i hear wonderful things and then i hear

complexity right i hear complexity of

like different level of player different

age of player different gender of player

different cities and explosive you know

expansion into different regions

thinking about that and of course trying

to

you know have contingency plans in place

what do you see as some of the of the

biggest challenges you guys might

encounter in the next few years

i think one is just making sure we have

sustainable growth right a lot of times

in business people want to grow so fast

but they grow too fast so we’re just

being very strategic on how we grow and

how we add new teams to our organization

um in addition to that making sure we’re

picking the proper sites to host new

teams right it’s very important that uh

areas that we grow into are the right

cities for our brand of football and

flag football and just making sure we

engage within the community one thing

that’s super important to our

organization is that getting into these

cities and having these teams we just

don’t want to be um just another team in

the city we actually want to engage in

the city we want to become we want our

players and our organizations to become

real citizens of the cities that they

service and that’s really it’s important

to us we feel if we don’t ingrain

ourselves in these communities then the

communities won’t accept us and then

they’ll eventually reject us and you

know that’s important to us

to to get in these cities and let them

know we are one with you guys we’re just

not oh you guys

yeah i love that i think um community

building right

is is a wonderful

development of

engagement right and equal access and so

that that is incredibly powerful

um

i mean i think by default many many

leagues professional and otherwise

are

think about that um there are different

ways to go about doing it and they’re

different kinds of results right some

some

um

organizations are more successful at it

than others when you think about affl um

and what you’re trying to do is there

any sort of business model group of

people that you’re saying we want to be

like them but even better

or is this something that that is just

the people that kind of put this

together this is their own brainchild

i mean you always

look at the success of other leagues

like the nfl and you look at some of the

things that they’ve done and and you

like it and then you see the things that

you don’t like and you know you kind of

dismiss it and you know we’ve taken the

research and we’ve looked at you know

other major league brands we looked at

the nba hockey

mlb

um mls and we’ve looked at some of the

things they’ve done and we’re going to

take pieces of that as we grow our

organization

we really

the main part is doing things

differently in the sense of

where some of the organizations may drag

their feed on as far as like uh

alternative medicine right there’s

there’s a huge um push right now as far

as being all natural even within the

cannabis community and things of this

nature that are not performance

enhancing drugs and and they’re things

that are really helping people with

injuries in an all-natural way you know

we really want to jump in front of that

and show the the the public and help

educate them with some of our partners

we want to show the players and help

educate our players with some of our

partners and really show this acceptance

of of

these new techniques and these new ideas

that can really help the sports world

and and help it grow so there’s a lot of

things that we want to jump in front of

and do differently um

that will enhance our league

it’s incredibly innovative i mean what

you’re telling me is really um it is

different it is different it’s trying to

be a little bit of of new school while

learning from the old school right

um

as you’ve been going through this

journey is there

what has surprised you the most

so

for me

my background is in the motor sports

world and i and i also played um

football tackle football for a number of

years on on multiple levels um

the sense of community within

the flag football community has been

absolutely amazing

and just how global it is you know if

you travel around the different

countries you know in regards to tackle

football you’ll see a lot of people who

love tackle football but when you see

the people around the world who

participate in flag football it’s

astounding and the sense of community

and authenticity in it

and wanting to be a part everybody

ingrained and it wants to be a part of

something they want to be a part of this

flag football culture and and i love it

it’s people are very passionate about it

and even guys that play tackle football

you know when their body tells them

you can’t take the hits anymore and but

that competitive spirit is still in them

they turn to the flag community because

it is still football as they know and

then they love the community because

it’s a lot of everyday people and i

think the fact that there hasn’t been a

pro segment yet

it keeps it within that everyday people

in the culture right so everybody feels

like it’s down to earth hey you’re like

me you’re not better than me because you

made 50 million dollars

but

now when you bring the great things

about the pro sports and pro sports into

flag it just adds to that community so

i’m super excited about what i’ve seen

and where it can go

yeah i i i love

i love it i love the community keeps

coming up you know i mean i i’m a big

believer in that myself and i think um

whether it’s for fun or whether it’s

serious there’s so much to be said for

that i mean i i also completely respect

the fact that you have been doing this

for a while right in lots of different

ways and so you know it’s nice to hear

that’s what surprises you i’d also be

curious about what what did you expect

would happen

and actually did happen like you’re like

wow you know we thought this would

happen and here we we actually get a

check mark next to that i thought the

professional element might be rejected a

little bit more because of the sense of

community and what it’s it’s not an

underground culture but sometimes when

you transition something into a

professional sense people feel like it

will lose its authenticity and turn to

mainstream and i thought we were going

to get a lot of pushback regarding

transitioning um flag football into per

to professional sport but we haven’t you

know a lot of people have embraced it

and they’re excited for the opportunity

to become a pro and everything that

comes with it outside of being paid to

play right you know you get looked at as

from little kids and they admire you and

you know you

you get in these communities and you get

to talk in front of you know a community

that you live in and they see you as a

professional now they hold you to a

different light now so they never had

that opportunity before this came along

sometimes people feel that

once i done playing tackle football in

college or tackle football in high

school you’ll never get that opportunity

to play a professional sport again and

now that’s here and they’re embracing it

and i didn’t think it would happen as

fast but i’m excited that it has

so so seeing that success right um

let’s just say so you had a plan when

you started this you know you had a plan

of where you were going you had pleasant

surprises because of things that you

weren’t expecting to happen you had

pleasant surprises about things that you

thought might happen and didn’t right so

now the world really seems to be your

oyster right you guys are doing a lot of

great things the future is looking right

um

is there like one wish you had like boy

if i’d only known what i know now and i

think about where i really do want to be

let’s say even in not five years ten

years from now what would what might

that wish look like

i don’t know if i have the wish i’m just

excited to do the work

and and that’s what for me it really

comes down to because i see how it’s

being embraced and i know you know i’ve

been able to in my past endeavors you

know take grassroots organizations and

really turn them into successful

businesses and

a lot of the foundation that’s been

built to the affl before i’ve even

gotten here is a greater foundation that

i’ve ever had to start with regarding

having success with grassroots so i’m

just excited to just do the work um

there’s an awesome team that’s here with

the ffl that’s excited about the plan

everybody’s on the same sheet of music

and you know

as far as executing and getting into the

communities and just doing the work is

kind of where we all are and i’m i’m

super excited about getting my hands

dirty with everything

yeah i get it there’s nothing like

planning planning planning and then

you’re just ready to to make it happen

hands on drive forward and certainly in

the next two-ish years you guys are

going to have a lot of that

um

so maybe what you can help us with

before we wrap up is

thinking about

all you’ve been through you know what

you’ve started as a business right um

let’s say you’re you’re talking to

somebody that’s getting ready to start

something similar um going down a

similar path what sort of advice would

you help them to be successful and also

what sort of warnings might you want to

give them to look out for

um i think advice is just really look at

numbers and data and look at the world

around you you know sometimes people get

so caught up on trying to reinvent the

wheel and sometimes you don’t have to

reinvent the wheel you just have to

bring the wheel to the people who don’t

have it and to do that you just have to

do your research and see what’s out

there look at the steps and mistakes

that other people have made and then

look at the successes other people have

had and implement that into your plan

all right and then the other thing is is

don’t get discouraged right you’re going

to get a lot of people that are going to

tell you this doesn’t work that doesn’t

work but it’s kind of like if you think

about basketball and some of the greats

and you hear their stories michael

jordan’s and the kobe bryant’s you know

they’ve missed a million shots in their

career but you know it’s the preparation

that they had you know they they

practiced all the time to believe in

themselves and so even if they did miss

a shot you know you’re gonna make a

mistake you miss a shot it’s okay you

still got to take the next one so i

believe in just keep shooting but you

have to make sure you’re prepared all

right so just doing all that leg work

then it’s just execute you know there’s

so much into executing that that’s

important and sometimes people don’t you

know so just make sure you execute and

stay the course and surround yourself

with good people

and you’ll be good relationships are

everything um in business and aligning

yourselves with people that you know

have the same moral goals as you

all right not just about the money all

the time so uh you know aligning

yourselves with those type of

organizations and people will really

help you in the long run

now that that’s great advice you know i

mean yeah

have the plan stay the course

execute right and surround yourself by

people that will keep you within the

guideposts right it sounds almost cliche

but you know it’s like how many times

have we heard this before but it’s true

you know it’s kind of it’s it’s really

the true story and we just would be

surprised how many people get

discouraged when they uh you know have a

little bump in the road or somebody

tells them oh that’s not gonna work you

know and you believe in yourself and the

work you put in before the execution

then

you know you’ll be all right

yeah it’s uh you know um

affl is a team sport but i think

business is a bit of a team sport too

right

bigger i learned that uh

i played football most of my life and

then when i got into business it was

like wait a minute this is worse

yeah it’s it’s it’s it’s a bigger

machine especially as the business

starts to grow

which is what you guys are doing so

maybe maybe as your final question um

why don’t you you tell our audience

where it is you guys are and if they

want to learn more about what you’re

doing what should they do

all right so we’re you know the american

flag football league right we’ve been

around for five years and we are

currently

in a crowdfunding campaign right so if

you guys want to invest in our league if

you’re interested in some of the things

that we’re doing just follow justly get

on the platform all the information is

there how you could become a part of

what we’re doing and grow with us

that’s fantastic chris thank you so so

much for your time um looking forward to

hearing about all the successes you have

and seeing whatever aff ali comes to new

york city which is where i am um but

maybe i’ll get a chance to go down to

dallas and see some competition down

there too awesome we’d love to have you

thank you we’ll speak soon take care bye

you