This interview is provided in partnership with FieldGoal.eu. The original version can be viewed in Spanish.
Travis Brody is the founder and main contributor of “The Growth of a Game” and President of Premier Class Consulting (PCC), a consulting firm that facilitates the progression of sports organizations in Europe and the United States. Prior to founding PCC, Travis was the Vice President of Business Development for Sports 1 Marketing, a business venture of Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon.
From 2008-2010 he played quarterback for the Brussels Bulls of the Belgian Football League. During his time with the Bulls, Travis also coached quarterbacks, receivers, and kick returners for the Bulls junior team.
Additionally, Travis was affiliated with several teams in Europe as a consultant, coach, or player, and the list is long: Calanda Broncos, Wasa Royals, Düsseldorf Panthers, Prague Black Panthers, Utrecht Dominators, Paredes CFA Lumberjacks, Warsaw Eagles, Riga Lions, Reus Imperials, and more.
He is still active at the university where he studied, Occidental College in Los Angeles, through his work as a consultant with the Occidental Athletic Department and the OSBLN (Occidental Sports Business and Law Network), an organization that connects students with alumni currently working in the sports industry. He splits his time between California, New York, and Europe, strengthening existing partnerships and continually seeking new avenues to expand the reach of his clients.
One of his current projects revolves around the expansion of American football in Europe, the subject matter of his website The Growth of a Game, where he shares a very interesting perspective regarding the current state of the sport in Europe in both the short-term and long-term.
As a former professional player with first-hand knowledge of the current state of sports in the United States and in Europe, I conducted a short interview to understand his opinion about the current status and future of our sport. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Travis for his cooperation and availability to complete this interview.
The interview was conducted in both English and Spanish, as Travis is fluent in Spanish as well. The Spanish version can be read in its original version at Field Goal.
The NFL has tried various ways throughout its history to improve the visibility of the league as well as football in Europe. I’m referring specifically to NFL Europe and the more modern NFL International Series. In your opinion, which of the two formulas is better? Or perhaps there should be another method to implement synergies between American and European clubs? Currently there is a partnership between the Oakland Raiders and the Swarco Raiders, for example.
Each has been effective in its own way. NFL Europe, though perhaps a bit ahead of its time, sought to create an audience for American football in Europe while simultaneously establishing a developmental league for its fringe players. It was effective in both of its goals, however the league suffered from lack of continuity. Players and coaches came and went, with most players only staying in NFL Europe for one season. Teams in Barcelona, London, and Scotland all folded as well, ultimately turning it into an almost exclusively German venture with the lone outsider playing in neighboring Amsterdam. Conversely, the NFL International Series focuses more on bringing a first class product to a wider audience, which has helped them sell out every game, save for one NFL Lockout-shortened season. It’s really done in a very grandiose manner, much like a smaller version of the Super Bowl. They have fan zones, pre-game ceremonies, halftime performances, and so on. It’s been really well-received and the NFL wants to expand its presence in London even more. They’re currently offering three regular season games there every year, and that number is likely to expand to four games by 2016. One of the main factors in creating the NFL International Series in London has been to test the feasibility of establishing a full-time franchise there. I think they’ve proven definitively that this is a very achievable scenario.
It’s great to see the partnership between the Oakland Raiders and the Swarco Raiders – it’s the first of its kind and a really nice thing for international football. However, I don’t see the NFL as a league partnering full-time with European national teams in the future; that’s not really their modus operandi. Their clear goal has been to expand the presence of the league itself, rather than football in general. That’s why organizations such as USA Football have sprung up to fill the gaps in this area.
On your website, you talk about the long road that football took to establish itself as the most popular sport among Americans, as well as its exponential growth and popularity within Europe, with much of that owed to new technology that provides access to things like NFL GamePass and games on certain national channels. Despite this, it currently doesn’t seem that football can overshadow other more-established sports in Europe such as soccer or basketball. In your opinion, learning from the American situation, what is the key to transitioning football from a minority sport to a sport for the masses?
I think it starts, first and foremost, with creating a quality product. Right now American football in Europe is in the growth phase, but it requires a unified effort and objective in order to achieve relevant status within the European market. Teams and federations have struggled for years with agreeing on a clear-cut objective for American football in their respective countries. That’s why The Growth of a Game exists. We’re uniting American football advocates under a common cause: to elevate the level of the game in Europe to a point where it rivals that of any country in the world.
Now that we’ve established a very specific objective, the next step is to improve the professionalism and financial viability of clubs and federations all across Europe. That’s where our consulting firm, Premier Class Consulting, comes in. We help teams and leagues become sustainable enterprises and implement new profit models while creating an organized, accountable, and efficient management structure.
The next step from there is to identify and remove the regulations that impede the growth of the sport. In some countries that’s the mandatory amateur status. In others it’s the obligatory import quotas. To compete with a sport like soccer, we need to start by taking ourselves more seriously.
You have experience as a player and coach in the Belgian Football League (BFL). What can you tell us about Belgian football, the level of play and organization of the league, and its growth in recent years?
The Belgian league is full of dedicated and talented players, however it suffers due to a lack of sustainability and unified effort. As a nation that is divided linguistically, there is too much effort placed on identifying the things that make them different from one another rather than acknowledging the things that they have in common. For this very reason, Belgium has hesitated to move to two-division format and has instead elected to maintain a one-division, two-conference format, which is naturally divided by language. The problem that this presents is that in an 18-team league there are only 3-4 teams that can compete for a national championship each season. New teams spring up often, but they struggle to contend with the top tier teams and very often fold. The league would be better off moving to a two-division format which would soften the blow for new teams and give them a chance to compete immediately against similar competition. Belgium will undoubtedly get to that point, as there are too many smart, dedicated people involved with American football for it not to move forward.
The competition known as the BIG6 brings together several elite European clubs. The league was born in 2014 and was extended through at least 2016. The clubs are invited to compete in the league in addition to already competing in their domestic competitions. Could this be the seed of a future pan-European professional football league? If so, do you believe it’s possible for teams to compete in two high-level leagues such as the GFL and the BIG6?
The BIG6 is a good step in the right direction. If it can achieve sustainability I think it can really change the landscape of American football in Europe. I do believe that some teams have the capacity to play in both their respective national leagues and the BIG6, however teams need to be very careful not to push things too far for risk of injury. The Prague Black Panthers famously played two games in one day last year, winning both. While incredibly impressive, it puts the players at unneeded risk. Safety in our sport should not be taken lightly. The Austrian league is very good about this, playing an 8-game season and maintaining enough flexibility to allow its teams to compete in international competition.
Let’s tackle the issue of American players. Some countries restrict their entry, while others impose quotas. What is your opinion on this topic? What policy should be followed to increase the level of European football while allowing local players to access teams?
I’m all for appropriate regulation in American football. That said, I am completely against rules that inhibit the growth of the game. Some countries, like the United States have instituted both amateur and professional leagues, represented by NCAA college football and the NFL, respectively. However, if you want to be taken seriously as a professional organization you must acquire import players. Placing a cap on the number of import players you can have limits the quality of play in the league and deprives a country’s national players from competing against the best talent from around the world. Some are concerned that European teams will suddenly be filled entirely with American players should there be a removal of the import quota system, but that concern is factually unfounded. It will never be financially or commercially viable to fill an entire European team with American players, so this poses no threat. Plus, as the level of play in the league increases, so too will the level of its national players. Ultimately, the level of play among national players will mirror that of import players, and an appropriate balance will begin to take shape. I believe that the import quota is one of the biggest inhibitors of American football in Europe. The sooner we eliminate this, the faster the game will grow. We just need to see the first league act boldly enough to implement this policy and the rest will undoubtedly follow.
On your website you talk about attracting sponsors to American football. You identified how it’s more efficient for any company to attract greater visibility with a smaller investment in American football as opposed to a sport like soccer. You also mentioned that in order to attract sponsors a club must be professional and create a unique experience for anyone coming to watch a game. What are the keys to achieving this?
People will only take you as seriously as you take yourself, so your first step needs to be to establish a professional organization. That means doing all of the little things right, delegating responsibilities to the right people, being accountable for your actions, and proving that your organization is financially responsible. The next step is to highlight the compelling characteristics of American football. Emphasize things like the team-first mentality, the strategic nature of the game, the pace and intensity of the game, the inclusory environment it fosters, and the values it promotes (toughness, teamwork, commitment, unity, strength, etc.). Lastly, teams need to differentiate themselves from their competition. Perhaps you have a really talented national or import player on your roster, maybe you’re highly focused on your youth program, or you may have very high attendance at your games. Whatever your strength is, identify it and exploit it.
When did the idea of engaging in the promotion of American football in Europe come about?
The idea came about while I was working for Warren Moon, one of the greatest quarterbacks that’s ever lived and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I wanted to utilize the knowledge and experience I had built working in sports and entertainment as well as my time playing and coaching American football in Europe to contribute to the growth of American football in Europe in some capacity. Playing and living in Europe had a profound impact on me becoming the man I am today, and I wanted to help be a factor in elevating the level of the game here and increasing public awareness for this great game of ours.
At the moment we find you writing a book on the growth of American football in Europe, which you plan to publish in 2017. Can you give us some insight into what the book will consist of?
Without giving too much away, the book focuses on the past, present, and future of American football in Europe, with a greater emphasis on the latter two elements. Much of it will be dedicated to the current state of the game and there will be lots of incredibly interesting stories. Every European country that plays American football will have some involvement with the book. I’m looking forward to sharing this story with the world.