Are these the future expansion sites for the European League of Football?

June 19th, 2021 marked a momentous date in the world of European football as a new league announced its presence with a bang.

The European League of Football (ELF) ushered in a new pan-European league with eight teams across three countries – Poland, Germany, and Spain. Just halfway through its inaugural season, the ELF league office is scanning the horizon for new teams to join its exclusive ranks.

Although the ELF is marketing itself as a truly continental league, in reality, it is not. It is the amalgamation of several German teams nostalgically reliving days gone by – namely NFL Europe. The talent drain in the German Football League, the GFL, has been well documented with all six German ELF teams situated just a stone’s throw away from current GFL teams. It is only the Wroclaw Panthers of Poland and Barcelona Dragons of Spain who compete outside the German football bubble.

This pseudo-European identity has not been lost on ELF management as rumblings have been made apparent from both inside and outside the league, nodding towards expansion teams in Holland, England, Turkey, and Sweden. But materializing hearsay into reality is another kettle of fish entirely. 

Let’s take a look across the continent to see where the next ELF franchises may sprout up.

London – The day before the first ELF game, Commissioner Patrick Esume was asked about potential expansion teams; Esume said there was nothing concrete but one thing is for sure, London will have a team. Since then he has repeatedly mentioned a London franchise, making it hard to imagine ELF without one next year. Who would take up that mantle is another question entirely? The London Warriors have dominated the league for years and would make the most sense, but in keeping with the NFL Europe theme, a new franchise under the resurfaced moniker of the London Monarchs would seem more likely.

Istanbul – Like the Wroclaw Panthers of Poland, the Koç Rams of Istanbul have consistently sought football competition outside of their federation in tournaments such as the Central European Football League, with the likes of Swarco Raiders and Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns. In an interview with German TV outlet ‘Ran’ after the Leipzig Kings game last weekend Esume mentioned Istanbul being a potential city with a population of 15m, making it an ideal market (not shying away from commercial intentions).

Austria – After Austrian Federation of American Football President Michael Eschlböck’s stern words on the ELF recently, it is difficult to imagine an amicable relationship forming between the two organizations. But there are two teams full of athletes who have consistently been ranked at the top of European football and also welcome tests against international challengers – the Vienna Vikings and Swarco Raiders

Even more interestingly, professional soccer player David Alaba of Real Madrid allegedly expressed interest in funding an ELF team in his hometown of Vienna, whether this be the Vikings or not is the question at hand. It would also be hard to imagine a world where Swarco would not follow their bitter rivals into ELF to continue the blood feud.

Bavaria – How to reign supreme in Germany? Consolidate the market. Bavaria is the last bastion of GFL football untouched by the far-reaching arms of the ELF. It would be no surprise if the large football market in Munich was next on the list.

Düsseldorf – the home of former NFL Europe team Rhein Fire – is the location of the ELF championship game which will be played on September 26, 2021. What better way to gauge interest than see how many tickets sell? On Tuesday, the ELF announced that 10,000 of the 18,000 tickets available had already sold out!

Amsterdam – Another one of those teams mentioned in passing by Commissioner Esume. For years the Amsterdam Crusaders, like many others in Europe, have sought competition outside of their domestic league in Holland (AFBN). They have even on occasion refused to participate in the AFBN’s schedule.

Esume, determined to reignite NFL Europe, will surely have Amsterdam in his sights as the former nesting ground of Amsterdam Admirals who featured such players as Super Bowl winner and two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner.

ParisFrance has produced a number of notable Canadian Football League and NFL players and boasts a tiered level of football across the country. There is clearly a market for football in France, and where else to place a team than in the capital city, Paris. La Courneuve Flash has been dominating not only French football but also European since the late ’90s and offers a strong foundation for an expansion team.

Stockholm – In the last few years, the Swedish league (Superserien) has morphed into a four-team race for the championship, offering little in the way of diversity. There have been rumors that one of the winningest Swedish side, the Stockholm Mean Machines, were approached to join the ELF; however, a three-team league might force the Superserien to rethink the structure of Swedish football altogether.

Italy – The Italian federation have made their thoughts very clear in recent weeks as they effectively banned all Italian players from playing in the ELF. This would make an Italian franchise even more controversial and force young Italians to pick their path early – ELF or Italian league. There is a big market for football in Italy and off the back of a highly competitive season in the Italian first division, it would be a shame to see teams like Milano Seamen or Parma Panthers leave.

As federations from both the Italian and German leagues begin to take a stand against the ELF, expect cracks to begin forming in European football. How this affects teams wishing to enter the ELF is anyone’s guess.

Some teams feel they have been failed by their federations while others are just seeking what they feel is a more professionalized game. The foundations of future expansion teams are anything but concrete, but according to CEO Zeljko Karajica one thing is for sure, two to four additional teams will enter the ELF in 2022. All the operational considerations and all this will affect domestic leagues is, at the moment, an afterthought.

Daniel Mackenzie is a Press Association graduate who works in journalism and communications in the third sector. Daniel began playing football for the London Warriors and Team Great Britain and has since played across Europe.