Everyone knows chicks dig the long ball. But what about when chicks are the ones throwing and catching the ball? In their underwear. The Lingerie Football League, recently rebranded into the Legends Football League, is taking stellar female athletes and showcasing their tackle football skills on the biggest stage available. But is the LFL, founded in 2009, sustainable as a viable business, or is it only a matter of time before the league flops, further supporting the trend that women’s professional leagues can’t garner enough support to compete with men’s leagues from a ratings and revenue standpoint?
In a press release earlier this year, LFL owner Mitch Mortaza explains why shifting the focus from “True Fantasy Football” to “Women of the Gridiron” is so important.
This is the next step in the maturation of our now-global sport. While the Lingerie Football League name has drawn great media attention, allowing us to showcase the sport to millions, we have now reached a crossroad of gaining credibility as a sport or continuing to be viewed as a gimmick.
The league changed the logo but kept its LFL moniker, and uniforms have ditched the bows and underwire to resemble something more like Olympic beach volleyball bikinis. In addition, the league has expanded its franchises into the Atlanta and Omaha markets. Atlanta couldn’t even support a men’s hockey team, and the Thrashers departed in June of 2011. But football is not hockey, and in football hotbeds like Georgia and Nebraska it seems as if there’s plenty of football fandom to go around. With the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, SEC’s Georgia Bulldogs, and ACC’s Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets nearby, I’m interested to see what kind of attention and support the LFL’s Atlanta Steam will receive in a marketplace that can’t get enough football.
Seemingly another peg in LFL strategy was to switch the LFL season from fall to spring. The NFL and NCAA already dominate the fall football radio and television airwaves. Since most football fans recharge during the spring by closely following the NFL trades and their college alma mater spring practices, the LFL’s on-field football product will give fans live football almost year-round.
With 12 total domestic teams and leagues in Canada, Europe, and Australia, I’m also interested to see how Mortaza begins to monetize the leagues. Domestically, revenue streams have great room for growth. Mortaza owns each franchise, and sponsors come in at the league level. Broadcasting rights, which are the main revenue streams for most professional sports, have previously belonged to MTV. Also, it will be interesting to see if Mortaza starts to single out local owners to buy-in and operate a franchise.
My good friend and flag football teammate, Brittany Morgan, is quarterbacking the Atlanta Steam, and it’s been interesting over the past few months to watch her go through tryouts, training camp, and prepare to represent the city of Atlanta. In addition to having a full-time day job in the sports industry, she shows up to practice from 9:30 P.M. to midnight on weeknights. Sure, she’s tall, blonde and happens to be very attractive, but I know that she’s more interested in proving what she and her teammates can do on the field than caring about the attention she already receives from adoring male fans.
As Morgan began playing flag football in college, it’s obvious that one major element the LFL is lacking is a feeder league. There are no collegiate tackle football leagues for women, so athletes begin to play the sport at a later age. But that doesn’t mean they don’t know football. Spend two or three minutes grabbing a beer with Morgan or any other girl on the team and they’re talking about routes and coverage. Guys are generally surprised when girls can talk football, and the main sentiment is that people are surprised that these women literally know the strategy of football inside and out. Another surprise is that a lot of the women were collegiate and in some cases Olympic athletes with extreme athletic skill and intelligence levels. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of being on the other side of the ball from some of these women and witnessed firsthand the speed, strength, composure, and complexity in which they play the game.
For Morgan and the Atlanta Steam, the season kicks off on Saturday, March 30 against the Jacksonville Breeze. The ladies are excited and ready to showcase their football acumen and athletic prowess in the name of their city. Possessing brains and beauty, Morgan understands the game of football, but she also understands Mortaza’s repositioning of the league. In order to gain credibility, the league must be taken seriously by fans as well as players and coaches, and this biggest marketing push to date has already brought new awareness to the sport. Morgan believes that once people tune in or attend a game, the level of play will speak for itself.
Only time will tell if the league’s new rebranding strategy—that focuses on the women as incredible athletes and not merely sex pots—will lead to unparalleled attention for a women’s professional sport. But expanding sponsorship and broadcast rights is the much meatier part of the success equation that Mortaza needs to leverage. So what do you think? Is the LFL a short-lived pop culture fad, or does it have the potential to change the way we think about women’s professional sports? Check out the league’s new trailer and decide for yourself.