The Boom of Flag Football (And The Impact of Its Growth)

You know what’s going to be cool?

When Team USA is filled with star-studded NFL players in the 2028 Summer Olympics.

But the flag football movement is much bigger than what you see in the headlines.

Let’s Dive In 👇

History of Flag Football

Did you know American Football was created as an offshoot of rugby and soccer in the mid-1860s?

It took nearly another century for flag football to arrive…which is believed to have begun in the U.S. military during World War II (at Fort Meade, Maryland).

flag football born in the us military with players in a game

Flag football was started for military personnel to play without getting injured during wartime.

From there, local leagues were formed as military personnel returned home in the 1950s and 1960s.

It has continued to grow as cities developed their own adult flag football leagues (and the dangers of concussions came to light).

NFLs Downstream Plan

Whatever you think about American Football, it’s fair to say the National Football League (NFL) has created a behemoth through constant innovation.

In a past briefing, we explored the NFL’s moves horizontally in Europe and Africa.

nfl player hopping over line with league giving metaphor of expansion to africa and europe

But downstream seems to be the next big move…

The NFL loves flag football for several reasons:

  • engage GenZ
  • get females playing at a young age
  • opportunity for subsidiary-type leagues

Going a bit deeper…

Growth of Main Leagues

We’ve seen emerging leagues arise (and the top leagues build properties that funnel into their core proposition).

Some examples:

  • The NBA’s success in Africa has other leagues looking internationally.
  • Overtime Elite’s external-facing success with their amateur basketball league that produced two top-5 NBA draft picks has sports executives looking around for what’s next.
  • Offshoot success of sport-variations like 3on3 basketball and 7on7 football have opened up new ways to engage more athletes, fans, and brands.

To me, it’s not a surprise that the Big3 and NBA are in a legal dispute around anti-trust laws.

big3 founder ice cube mad about NBA anti trust

I believe Ice Cube when he says the NBA told sponsors they can’t work with another league (even though it’s 3on3 and is at no risk of stealing players).

Sports are media properties. They’re entertainment. Eyeballs are what matter.

The Big3 was taking away both, however fractionally, from the NBA.

Opportunities in Flag Football

NFL executive Peter O’Reilly recently said…

We’re committed to growing flag football around the world…

picture of denver broncos youth flag football team

And their actions are backing that up…

The NFL has worked hard to promote flag football and pushed for its inclusion in the Olympics.

  • Last year, the league turned its annual Pro Bowl into a weeklong series of competitions culminating with the AFC-NFC all-stars playing flag football.
  • The NFL is planning on allowing current and former players to participate in flag football at the 2028 LA Olympic Games.
  • Every year, the best co-ed and girls’ flag teams — representing every one of the NFL’s clubs and markets — play in the All 32 Summer Invitational Tournament.
  • NFL has begun culminating partnerships with state associations to create female flag football opportunities.

Flag football is non-contact, low-cost, quick to learn, and anyone can participate.

Movement of Female Flag Football

There aren’t opportunities for girls to play high-level football — but flag is a different story.

In the United States, around 474,000 girls under the age of 17 played flag football last year — 63% more than in 2019.

They’re part of a movement that has 20 million participants in 100-plus countries.

female flag player running up field with girl in red chasing her

Eight states have sanctioned flag football as a girls’ high school sport, including New York, California, and Arizona (twenty other states are exploring pilot programs).

The number of U.S. colleges and universities offering women’s flag is growing rapidly as well.

Flag football players are now competing for: 

  • scholarship money
  • roster spots on national teams
  • chance to represent their countries in the World Games

Girls already have 1.3 million fewer high school athletic opportunities than boys, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation.

graph of team youth sports participation rates over time

Limited access is one of the main reasons that teenage girls drop out of sports.

I believe leagues like the NFL have more room to grow because of pipelines they’re yet to fully capture.

  • flag football
  • prep schools
  • college sports teams
  • NFL Africa (internationally)

Going Forward

We’ve all seen the flag football headlines…

But the business opportunities and deeper plays are what I’m interested in.

artwork of male football player grabbing flag of female player trying to juke

Lots of growth and developments are set to take place in flag football/football leading up to the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

There’s a reason in last year’s NFL All-Star game they played flag football, not contact ball.

If you really want to understand where sports are headed — dig deeper than just the headlines. Or just read/listen to Profluence. 😆

Industry Trends & Analysis

The future of sports delivered to your inbox every Thursday.

Related Articles

Industry Research & Analysis

Trends, news, & companies shaping the future of sports delivered to your inbox every Thursday.

Industry Research & Analysis

Trends, news, & companies shaping the future of sports delivered to your inbox every Thursday.