A market, two leagues: The fronts of football remain hardened

Two weeks after the final of the new European League of Football (ELF), the final of the German Football League (GFL) is now taking place. The hype surrounding the sport in Germany continues. However, it is doubtful how it will continue with him.

Both the new European football league and the German football league are courting German fans.
imago bilder / Hartenfelser

It is as if they are on the same field but on different sides. And right in the middle of that are the players and fans they are courting. The hype surrounding American football in Germany continues. This is the feeling of both the representatives of the German Football League (GFL) and the new European Football League (ELF). The question is who can use it and how. The fronts between the leagues are hardened. On Saturday (18.00) the GFL final between Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns and Dresden Monarchs will take place in Frankfurt. Even more exciting than the German Bowl itself should be how the trend sport will continue in this country afterwards.

With eight teams – six from Germany, one from Spain and one from Poland – the newly formed ELF started its first season in June.

“We are very, very satisfied,” said CEO Zeljko Karajica in retrospect. “The fact that all 44 matches could be played with an audience despite Corona is almost a sensation.”

Almost two weeks ago, around 20,000 visitors took part in the wild and exciting final, in which the Frankfurt Galaxy defeated the Sea Devils Hamburg 32:30, at the football stadium in Düsseldorf. “Measured by the number of viewers, the consequences on social media or the TV viewer numbers, we have already made a difference,” Karajica emphasizes. “People have embraced this league.”

“We are not in a big exchange”

And it must continue to grow. “We came to stay,” says Karajica. With Düsseldorf, Innsbruck and Vienna, three new teams and a new host country will be added in 2022. “Our goal is to have a twelfth team, maybe even 14 or 16,” says the 50-year-old CEO of ELF. “We are holding various talks and will give ourselves time until the end of November.”


The German football market is competitive – and also important for the big NFL.
imago bilder / Hartenfelser

With the GFL, which is based in the American Football Association Germany (AFVD), on the other hand, almost no one speaks anymore. “We are not in a big exchange,” says Karajica. Axel Streich, head of strategy and communications at the GFL board, reports on “quite superficial” talks last winter. The ELF representatives were “several times offered to organize themselves in organized sports – similar to a Champions League in football or other sports,” he says. “There was obviously no interest in it.”

Two projects? “This can not go well”

So everyone is working on their own project. Streich is pleased that the GFL season came through this time after the corona-related cancellation in 2020. He attributes to the reduced number of spectators the restrictions caused by the pandemic and people’s reluctance to visit the stadium, not the new competition. “At the level we are at at the moment, two leagues in parallel can not go well in the long run,” he predicts. He is sure that the GFL “will not stall because of the ELF, but it will be exciting to see how both will develop in parallel”.

It builds “on the structures that non-profit organizations have built up over the years but give nothing back,” Streich accuses the ELF. GFL, which currently has 14 clubs, has lost players, coaches and teams to the competition.

Germany is Europe’s most important market for the NFL.

NFL Europe spokesman Brett Gosper

Karajica can not do much about the criticism. “No player will be forced to switch,” he says, asking, “If we have done nothing to make this sport popular in Germany, then who will?” That would benefit the union. “Once a young man has seen the European League of Football and decides he wants to play football, he ends up on one of the youth teams anchored in the AFVD,” says Karajica. He points to youth camps and collaborates with underclass teams that have been organized.

In addition, 14 ELF players have been invited to the US NFL’s observation training in London next week. “If one of them gets into the NFL, it would be a hallmark of quality football in Germany and Europe,” Karajica says. The NFL is football’s biggest stage – and it’s a mighty show. In 2022, by 2023 at the latest, she will play a game in Germany. Here’s Europe’s most important market, “says NFL Europe chief Brett Gosper.

GFL: “Always focus on sports and the German championship”

At GFL, “the focus will always be on sports and the German championship,” Streich emphasizes. “But we also have not known since yesterday that we need to change and professionalize.” GFL is also interested in better marketing and already initiated this process a year ago. Since then, a league sponsor has been won and a league association has been founded. At the next meeting of the clubs on Sunday, they want to “work further to set the course for the future”.

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