The owner of Elite Football League of India expansion team Navi Mumbai Sabers anticipates a return on his investment within the next couple of years. U.S.-based entrepreneur Donald Thompson expects not only to break even with his American football team but to be profitable in the near future. “As a business person you do things with a return on investment in mind,” he said. Thompson bets on the interest in the Indian marketplace to make it happen. The Navi Mumbai Sabers will join the EFLI this fall when its second season kicks off. The team is one of 16 expansions teams as the league was able to increase its number of franchises from eight to 24. Thompson became interested in the league after reading a Wall Street Journal article in late ‘13. The piece, which also referenced the EFLI’s most famous investors Kurt Warner and Mark Wahlberg, intrigued Thompson, who then got in contact with league officials. With the majority of his investments in the digital space, owning a professional American football team is a completely new experience for Thompson, who lives in Raleigh, N.C. However, the potential of the league and the opportunity to get in on the ground floor outweighed the potential risks, he said. “If you think about the folks and the families in the NFL and Major League Baseball that bet dollars before it looked reasonable, they are all doing pretty good.”
CREATING A BRAND: Not only are team owners looking at their NFL counterparts, but the league as a whole is trying to emulate the NFL’s success. Thompson told SBD Global the reason the NFL is such a tremendous property and marketing venue is because there is a unified focus around the brand. He pointed to TV and digital as a difference maker in what the EFLI tries to accomplish. “To say that we are very focused on the digital and media aspects of what we are doing is an understatement,” Thompson said. “It’s an absolute priority.” The EFLI’s inaugural season back in ’12 was shown on TEN Sports in India. Thompson declined to comment on media partnerships for the upcoming season as negotiations are ongoing. Social media will also play a big role in the development of the league and its teams. The Sabers’ website is expected to go live by Sept. 30, said Jackie Ferguson, the team’s director of operations. Technology such as video conferencing and Skype will become essential tools once the season starts to bridge the gap between India and the U.S., she added. On the sponsorship side, Thompson said the team is talking to brands and businesses in the apparel, beverage and manufacturing sectors. He hopes to be able to add to the Sabers’ current sponsorship roster, which includes Lids Team Sports Group and league partner Team Rebel Sports Direct, before the team’s first game. “There are 1.2 billion people in India and everybody is looking for an entry point,” Thompson said. “We think from a business standpoint we’ve got a tremendous business entry point, which is American football.”
AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Lids signed on as the official sponsor of the Sabers training camp, which took place in Greensboro, N.C., from Aug. 16-21. Thompson flew in several of his team’s skill players along with head coach Preetesh Balyaya to learn the ins and outs of the game from U.S. coaches. The players went through grueling workouts and hours of studying under the guidance of coaches Michael Springston, William Thompson and Josh McGee. Now back in India, the players will be able to relay those experiences to the rest of the team as they prepare for the season opener. The Sabers’ goal for their inaugural EFLI season is clear, winning the championship, Balyaya said.