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American Football Making Foray Into India

Chief Executive Officer of Elite Football League India Richard Whelan, center, poses with Indian players during a press conference to announce the league in Mumbai, India, Aug. 5, 2011.

American-style football is seeking an entry into India. But it is unclear whether a country that has a single-minded obsession with cricket will take to this all-American sport.

That's because although American-style football ranks among the top favorites in the United States, it has virtually no following in India.

That fact has not deterred a group of foreign investors from launching the Elite Football League of India, or EFLI.

Eight teams representing India’s largest cities will kick off the EFLI’s inaugural season next November in the western city of Pune. The organizers say there is huge potential in a country of 1.2 billion people.

Sports analysts in India are not so sure.

Football commentator Novy Kapadia in New Delhi sees the launch of American-style football in India as an attempt at globalizing the sport. But he says it remains to be seen whether the rough and tumble sport will excite Indians, for whom it is “an area of darkness.”

“This is really a surprise, a bolt from the blue," Kapadia says. "There has never been attraction towards American football, neither is American football watched a lot on television. Also, genetically and physically it is a game for much stronger people and does not really suit the Indian physique.”

The EFLI will have to begin from scratch, training both players and coaches. But it has big plans. It will add new teams in each season for 10 years, or until it has 52 teams representing all Indian cities with a population of over one million.

The organizers say they are confident of finding a niche population that will be interested in a sport that is part of the American way of life.

Sports commentator Kapadia says American-style football is entering India at a time when other sports enterprises, such as Formula One auto racing, are also eyeing the country’s huge middle class.

“The world is seeing India as a market, and I think the sporting world has caught on a bit late," he says. "But they’ve seen that even a 200 million middle class is larger than most countries in Europe. This consumer middle class, which is increasingly getting globalized, exposed to satellite television, English speaking, who like to be associated with global brands, just the same reason Formula One is coming into India, is probably the reason why American football is coming.”

American Football will have to compete with cricket, the sport that has a nationwide following. Cricket’s Indian Premier League, which launched in 2008, has been a spectacular success and has turned into a multi-million dollar business.

Investors in EFLI include the former coach of the Chicago Bears, Mike Ditka, former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski and former Green Bay Packers linebacker Brandon Chillar.