Need for new TV product behind NFL and UFC push into South Asia as EFLI debuts

By Chris Parry, VancouverDesi.com

You may never have heard of the Pakistan Wolfpak or the Dehli Defenders before, but Mike Ditka and Mark Wahlberg are hoping that soon changes – at least if you’re watching TV in India.

Ditka, the NFL coaching legend of Chicago bears fame, has sunk a little money into the EFLI, otherwise known as the Elite Football League of India, and Hollywood hunk Wahlberg has followed suit. The pair are just two of many investors looking to catch a little lightning in a bottle in South Asian sports, but their eight team league, which focuses on Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka and has recruited a wide range of rugby players and track and field athletes to make up the numbers on-field, has the added benefit of network TV coverage to help it along.

Only here, when we say ‘coverage,’ we don’t mean live coverage – the season was played in its entirety before a frame was shown on TV. This allowed the league to cut together footage in the most exciting way possible and peasant the sport in its best possible light. It’s not like the stands were going to fill if they played it live, right?

And just to be sure costs will be kept down, the games have been all played in one stadium, in Sri Lanka. Total cost of the season over 56 games: $2.5 million – a fry cry from what WWE wresting boss Vince McMahon spent trying to create his short-lived XFL minor league stateside in 2001.

However non-pure it may have been by NFL standards, the ploy worked – Ten Sports will broadcast the league to 170 million homes in 14 countries, according to a recent Time article.

American Football isn’t the only sport making inroads in India from North America right now. The Ultimate Fighting Championship is focusing on India over the next year, according to UFC boss Dana White.

“We’re going to make a big run at India,” White told repairers recently. “That’s the one we’re really focused on.”

There’s already an Ultimate Fighter: India reality TV series in the works, and a TV deal with Six to show pay-per-view events in South Asia. With a culture that’s been long tied to martial arts, wrestling and kabbadi, the UFC may be onto something.

“When you look at the trends of what’s going on, and what I’ll call kind of ‘youth culture,’ and the way they’re consuming entertainment, that younger generation is kind of moving away from traditional Bollywood and they’re consuming more of western Hollywood type product,” said UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta at a recent media event.

“The WWE is very popular there, and I think when the consumer first sees [UFC], they’re going to think it’s WWE. I think a lot of people over there think the WWE’s actually real, believe it or not, just because they haven’t seen what is real. And when they see the UFC, they’re going to be like, ‘Wow, that’s real and the WWE is not real.’ […] In order to really build a sustainable, long-term business, you have to have product in the market.”

The EFLI league includes teams such as the Pakistan Wolfpak, the Dehli Defenders, the Kolkata Vipers, the Mumbai Gladiators, the Pune Marathas the Bangalore Warhawks, the Kandy Skykings and the Colombo Lions, with the potential for future talent to be found in Nepal and Bangladesh.

The league hopes to expand to 52 teams by 2022. Other investors include NFL greats Michael Irvin and Kurt Warner, among others. The Sports Authority of India receives 15% of all revenues and has, in turn, offered government support for the league, even though the rosters of local rugby teams are being pilfered to make up the numbers.

Richard Whalen, the CEO of the EFLI, told Time, “Our timing is dead-on … One day the Mumbai Gladiators will be worth more than the New York Yankees.”

That might just be overstating the case a little bit. A recent game between the SkyKings and Warhawks saw one player unknowingly play with his shirt on inside-out, and another with his number drawn on his back with chalk.

But even a small success in a market the size of this one could be a big success financially.





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