Roman Oben, VP of football development for the NFL, said the current atmosphere around flag football reminds him of the buzz captured by women’s soccer in the 1990s. “I look at 1994—Mia Hamm comes out of North Carolina and then Nike doubles down on what I call the Mia Hamm effect,” Oben said. “By the time you got to the ’96 Atlanta games, you saw every little girl who wanted to play sports wanted to be Mia Hamm playing soccer.”
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Increasing sponsor interest
USA Football, which leads the formation of national teams competing in international competitions such as the World Games and Olympics, has seen more interest from sponsors since the Olympics announcement, said Hallenbeck. While the group currently has deals with sporting equipment manufacturers such as the football helmet company Riddell, “now we’re in discussions with the major categories—jerseys, apparel, hydration, sports drinks, airlines, automotive,” Hallenbeck said.
Seventeen brands have sponsored USA Football in the past 12 months, according to SponsorUnited, which tracks brand partnerships in sports. The Hospital for Special Surgery is the most active, based on the number of sponsorships and digital assets, with Riddell, Wintrust Financial, Defibtech and Massov Athletics following, according to SponsorUnited.
Across flag football’s five primary domestic entities (USA Football, USA Flag, NFL Flag, National Flag Football and the AFFL), 134 brands are involved in sponsorships, with apparel and accessories, leisure and recreation, and technology the most active categories, according to SponsorUnited.
USA Flag, an organization behind sanctioned adult flag football leagues and tournaments, has the most brand partnerships in the sport with 75, SponsorUnited stated. USA Flag recently announced partnerships with Oakley, the energy drink Reign Total Body Fuel, the restaurant chain Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux, and the mouthguard brand Shock Doctor.
Oben said the Olympics could turbocharge efforts to grow flag football, as the NFL puts a marketing strategy behind it.
“A lot of the early work that’s been done over the last two years or so, from the pandemic up to now, was just to make sure that structurally, we were doing the right things, working with IFAF, working with USA Football, doing the right things to ensure that that this Olympic path is a reality,” Oben said. “Now, we can build in some sort of marketing-led strategy or a marketing slash operations strategy, about how do you get other people involved? And how do you generate more than just excitement about the Olympics, but see more states get sanctioned as girls’ flag as a varsity sport? You want to see all those things start to have a domino effect from this [Olympics] announcement.”