MUMBAI, India – India, a country with a passion for the genteel game of cricket, is about to get a taste of the rough and tumble sport of American football.
Organizers announced plans Friday for the Elite Football League of India, an eight-team pro league made up of Indian players and coaches that will open next year in this country of more than 1 billion people.
The league said investors include former Green Bay Packers linebacker Brandon Chillar, an American of Indian descent, former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin of the Dallas Cowboys and Hall of Fame tight end and former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka.
The inaugural season is to run from November 2012 to February 2013.
The teams will be the Bhubaneswar Warhawks, Mumbai Gladiators, Hyderabad Skykings, Goa Swarm, Pune Blacktigers, Kolkata Vipers, Delhi Defenders and Punjab Warriors.
"India is beyond doubt a great market for the sports and entertainment sectors," EFLI's chief executive Richard Whelan said at a news conference. "A concept like EFLI presents a huge opportunity and the perfect platform for brands to get visibility and reach out to their potential customers."
The league plans to add eight more teams during the second year and four in each subsequent season until 2022. By then, the league would have 52 teams representing all Indian cities with a population in excess of 1 million.
American football is the latest sport to set up a pro league in India following the success of cricket's multimillion dollar Indian Premier League.
Football, volleyball and the indigenous game of kabaddi have already started leagues while field hockey, wrestling, tennis and badminton are among those in the works.
The EFLI is confident of finding a niche despite being new to the country.
"We felt that India didn't have enough games or sport to watch on television and thus see a huge potential here," Whelan said "We are training coaches from athletics, volleyball and wrestling and hope to be ready for the first season in time."
He said the new league hopes to capitalize on the success of India's victory in this year's cricket World Cup on home soil.
"It's very fortunate that India has this cricket history because with the World Cup as the catalyst, all eyes are on the world of sport," he said.
The EFLI will invite 600 companies to attend an orientation program to discuss strategy for long-term business affiliation. The league hopes to attract not just corporate backing but also support from the army, city municipalities and political parties.
"We will definitely have a pay structure in place soon. We will put up our complete business module in a month or so," Whelan said.
Organizers plan to work with the Indian government to develop the first governing body for the game, similar to the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
They will also use playing fields owned by the government. All of the games in the first season will be played in the western city of Pune at the government-owned Sports Authority of India center.
Organizers said they would share 15 percent of their revenues with India's sports ministry.