LFL founder Mitch Mortaza gives the lowdown about the league
This fall, The Calgary Fillies are set to kick off their inaugural season and join the Saskatoon Sirens, Regina Rage and the B.C. Angels in the Legends Football League (LFL), formerly known as the Lingerie Football League.
Calgary faces off against Regina in its first game on Sept. 14 at the Stampede Corral.
The idea for the league began as a pay-per-view counterprogram during a Super Bowl halftime show called the Lingerie Bowl, which first launched in 2004. But after attracting nearly 65 million viewers for the event, a full league was started in 2009.
With the league and sport growing at such a rapid pace, the Calgary Journal interviewed Mitch Mortaza, league founder and chairman, about the league and what Calgarians can expect in the future.
Editor's note: Answers have been edited for clarity and length
What were people's reactions to the league when it debuted in 2009?
The reaction was mixed. We had a lot of fans that were excited about the concept, but they weren't exactly sure what to expect. And then you also had people who were against the league even though they hadn't ever really watched the LFL.
But since then, a lot of that has gone away because it has become very public that a lot of the girls are former collegiate athletes. These are girls who come from all walks of life such as doctors, lawyers, military personnel, mothers and so on. Once those types of stories have come out, we've seen some of the naysayers dissipate.
But, that being said, it is a process that we go through in every new country we go into, such as when we first went into Canada last year. But we are starting to see that go away as well. I believe, it's part of the maturation process of the brand.
Last year the league rebranded its self by dropping the lingerie and going forward with the Legends Football League, has that decision gone as well as you hoped?
It's a little too early to tell because in essence it's like we're almost starting from scratch again and trying to get people to understand what the Legends Football league is.
The primary reason for the rebrand was because we wanted to turn the attention more towards the sport and the athletes. It was becoming a bit tiresome at times having to use so much energy and resources to defend our sport versus actively talking about it
And our league is also moving towards more sports-centric broadcasting and advertisers. Since we made the announcement, numerous broadcasters like Réseau Des Sports (RDS) in Canada, as well as similar-types of networks in India, Mexico and Portugal have taken an interest. So the rebrand was needed to be able to market us to more sports-centric broadcasters.
What's the biggest misconception people have of the league?
I think it's the game itself. They think that the league, the players or the coaches don't take the game seriously.
But, once they get a chance to actually watch a game, and they are impressed by it. I don't think I've ever had anyone attend a game and not walk away and say, "Wow, that was real football and those are real athletes".
Last year you moved into Canada for the first time. How did the season play out for you?
Like any first year, it's challenging. We didn't have a television deal yet, with the exception being a few local stations, so the visibility wasn't there. This is going to be like the United States, where it's going to take a three-to-four-year cycle before we make an impact on Canada.
We're very close to naming a national broadcaster to pair up with RDS who will be broadcasting in French. That will help immensely with the awareness.
But, the market has been great because they're rich football markets. We are also looking at other markets like Montreal, London, Windsor, Winnipeg and Edmonton for the league. There's the potential for tremendous growth in Canada, but first we have to crawl before we sprint.
What attracted you to add Calgary as an expansion franchise this season?
We wanted to launch Calgary with the initial set of teams last season, but we had a challenge working out a business model with the Scotiabank Saddledome.
One of the reasons we haven't gone under as a league, is financially we make sound decisions and we decided the business model wasn't right to place a first-year team in the Saddledome.
So, we decided to hold off a year and go into the Stampede Corral, which is a much better business model for us. That is the main reason why we didn't decide to come into Calgary sooner.
What should people expect when they come out to see the Calgary Fillies play?
An LFL game is a real entertaining atmosphere. You're not investing three plus hours like you might in a CFL game. Our games are about an hour-and-a-half and it's a rock 'n' roll meets football atmosphere.
You'll see major collisions, trash talking, and 40-yard bombs. It's what can be described as, a fun Saturday night environment.
Where do you see the LFL going in the next 10 years?
In terms of what our true goals are, we want to launch and be active in Europe, Asia, South America and Australia. So in essence, we'd be the largest global sports franchise in existence.
And when we get it to that point and we are able to tell the story that it's a real sport, and these girls are real athletes, we'd really like consideration as an Olympic sport.
With people's number one complaint over the years being the uniforms, what do you typically say to people who have an issue with them?
Well, first and foremost, the uniforms have changed with the rebranding. We have brought on a more traditional pair of shoulder pads, which are much larger than you have seen in the past with the LFL.
We've also modified the uniform itself by taking out all the lingerie tassels and stuff like that; that's all gone now. As well, the actual fabric is actually called "performance wear" now, so it's similar to what you may see at the gym.
The uniform is the uniform. Sports like beach volley-ball have their athletes wearing less on their respective fields and their athletes aren't thought any lesser of. We firmly believe if we had initially led with the name Legends Football league, that this never would have been an issue. But because we do have that history with Lingerie Football League, it still persists.
We anticipate that it will be a case for about three or four more years until we really brand ourselves as Legends Football League.
- By IAN ESPLEN