At time of writing we are 73 days from kick off for season one of the National Gridiron League. Beyond the odd social droppings, there remains silence from the league. So why?

If there is one question that I have received as editor of AussieFaithful the most over these past few months. This would be it.

Why aren’t the NGL talking?

It’s a fair questions, and one that becomes an easy pimple to pick at for the league skeptics.

Again (yawn) I am not part of the NGL, I have no affiliation to the league. It brings you good folk to this little part of internet real estate. For that I am grateful to you and the what the NGL are trying to achieve.

I am also not an American Football expert, though I can play one on the internet.

I am happy to field the question for you, the NGL fan, and play the hypothetical for the league while the silence remains.

Most of this is playing devils advocate, and none of this is from the NGL itself unless cited.

But lets take a shot. Why has the league yet to spend their marketing dollar?

Marketing

First, the giant acid spitting elephant in the room.

Where is the NGL marketing department?

And no, AussieFaithful isn’t it. If it is and I wasn’t told about it, I need a business card, a corner office, and six figures thanks NGL management.

Marketing to fans by the NGL has been close to non-existent.

I get that.

We have had a couple of coaches doing their best.

Coach Michael Torres for example is active on social of late, updating Outlaws fans on player signings.

Positional coaches have been ducking in and out of Facebook groups. Players too.

The league has provided interview access to the AussieFaithful podcast, we were at the NGL Combine and they answer reasonable questions on request.

Director of Football Kirk Mastromatteo was spotted announcing the rosters were complete, and even had a go at getting a hashtag campaign going for #NGLcatchalltheaction (a friendly tip from a long-time digital agency guy, in a 144 character world, a 21 letter hashtag is too long).

None of it is marketing though, not even of the gorilla kind.

My dealings with the league administration have been nothing but professional. My interviews with players, and discussions socially, have indicated the league’s dealings with the players have been of the same quality.

The league has also insisted right now, football revenue is not integral to league sustainability. The fan dollars are not what will keep the league afloat for next season.

If that is true, and yes I know we all want to know how that is possible, then pleasing players, coaches and investors is the number one priority.

The NGL have stated the goal is to make the league in Australia the best league outside of North America.

That can only come with the quality of player, coach and official.

Player signings

Which brings us to players. There is no universe where you can convince me the level of NGL playing standard is not up to scratch.

Remember this is a sport that is a minority sport in Australia. We are a 5 sleeping tablet flight from North America. There has never been a professional league in Australia, and no one knows if anyone will be watching.

Despite this. At last count, my roster list has 203 of the 328 players having played at NCAA division 1 colleges in America.

It’s insane to think a country with no more than an Amateur level of competition, can start a league with 203 players coming out of the best nursery for the game in the world.

If the league has spent the past 18 months doing nothing but search the globe for that standard of player, then they have probably done their job.

Of the signings announced publicly, I know of around five who have backed out to play in other leagues. If there was rumblings of unrest at the league’s intent, this number would be higher.

Business structure

While most think of sport as a multi-million (billion) dollar juggernaut, in truth that is the lucky few.

In Australia, a sport mad nation, we have one league that is truly flourishing financially. Australian Rules Football.

The rest, are leagues continually in survival mode.

A new league is as much a start-up as a mum and dad fruit shop.

It’s a business with an unproven product in a difficult market.

Anyone who knows anything about start-up ventures will understand two things are essential to lasting long enough for it to be successful.

  1. “Extend your runway”, do all you can to extend the length of time between the first dollar spent, and the last dollar saved. The only thing that tips the scales of successful ventures is time.
  2. Stay lean, everyone thinks they know what they are building at the start of a business, and almost everyone is wrong. Why? Because the builder of the product is it’s worst customer. Until the product hits the shelves, or in this case, the field, no one will know where the failings are. Do fans care about player calibre?  Do they want one game or two? More Aussies, less Americans, marching bands or dancing girls?

I don’t know the internal structure of the league.

I know people are handling multiple roles though, which points to a lean setup and so energy must be focused.

Sustainability

Which is a nice angle into everyone’s concern.

Sustainability.

How can a professional American Football league be sustainable in a country where the sport would struggle to be in the top 10 for participation rates and viewers?

How can it be sustainable in a crowded marketplace across two states that has 30 professional football teams for a combined population of around 12 million?

No one knows the answer to that yet, but the traditional method of running a football league in NSW and QLD won’t work here.

This is a sport that the general populations interest in moves with the mood swings of Jarryd Hayne.

The traditional method of running a football code in Australia?

Over crowd the population centers with teams. Let them run themselves close to bankruptcy with mismanagement. Charge $9 for a pie, $8 for a low strength beer in a plastic cup, $100 for a family just to get in, and just pray the whole thing looks good on television.

If it does. Get a giant media deal, bail or relocate the broke clubs.

Rinse and repeat.

For a league like the NGL to be sustainable, it needs to sell itself on entertainment, not football. Just not enough people love the game here yet.

It is why we have two games on one day with a concert in between. It is an occasion, not a game of footy.

And it costs $34 for 8 hours that features 162 players and a concert. It’s a long day. Its untested on these shores. It might not work. But it is value.

The NGL’s very own strategy statement show the leagues priorities.

Our strategy seeks to position us as a key player in sports entertainment while maintaining a sustainable business model. Entertainment, development of American Football in Australia and social responsibility are at the heart of our activities. – NGL

Anyway back to sustainability.

If the league isn’t using football as its main source of revenue, then it can only come from investors, advertisers and external business dealings.

Remember investors expect returns and the NGL is promising them one.

How do you convince investors to put money into something that hasn’t seen the light of day in an unproven market?

A lot of hard work, probably a champagne lunch or three, and a hell of a lot of young-gun sales presentations with mint slices and coffee (in my experience, all the best presentations have them).

All takes time, all takes resources, all takes focus away from marketing budgets.

What do we really want?

It would be nice to see big budget marketing campaigns, billboards, dancing-girls and viral social campaigns. I agree.

None of that though encourages sustainability if football is not the main revenue stream.

In the end, we want two things for a professional league here in Australia.

  1. A league that is here for the long haul that provides opportunities for local players to become professionals.
  2. A league that is of the highest standard possible for fans to grow the sport in Australia.

So far we have a league being played in high quality stadiums, featuring top quality players, that will be shown on free-to-air and Pay-TV at reasonable ticket prices.

If the NGL is spending their time building the investment pool, negotiation sustainable stadium and TV deals, while signing a quality of player we haven’t seen on these shores.

Then I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

For now.

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