If you’re part of the functional fitness community, there’s a good chance you know of a competition being held somewhere near you within the next few weeks. If you follow the CrossFit Games, you likely know who the top athletes are in your Region or feel lucky to be coached by one of them at your gym.
The fast-growing CrossFit Games highlight the “Sport of Fitness,” bringing together the world’s top CrossFit athletes; many of whom train as professional athletes and have made careers out of competitive fitness.
Outside of CrossFit, millions around the world have signed up to compete (or just complete) in obstacle races - including Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, and Tough Guy Challenge - that have sport-ified endurance trail running by making it more spectator-friendly, yet approachably dangerous with man-made obstacles, functional fitness drills, and even prize money.
Coming on the heels of the growth of fitness competitions around the world, CrossFit’s former Co-Director and Executive Producer of the CrossFit Games Tony Budding is creating the National Pro Fitness League, billed as “first professional spectator sport with co-ed teams competing in human performance races” this Summer.
In the team-based NPFL, here’s how the city/geography-based teams work:
- 14 person active rosters (7 men and 7 women)
- At least one male and and one female athlete over the age of 40
- Four reserve athletes who can be called up during the season
Interestingly, an athlete hypothetically wouldn’t have to commit to a region, unlike Andrea Ager’s move to the South West region for the upcoming CrossFit Games. As long as an athlete signs a contract with a team, they would be able to compete.
If the NPFL provides a dependable platform for athletes to make a living, it could be interesting to see how an athlete’s home team could potentially affect which region they compete in for the CrossFit Games.
Teams would compete head to head in matches or races with the following formats:
- 8 people (4 men and 4 women) from each team compete
- 2 hours long
- All events announced ahead of time (contrary to the “unknown and unknowable” CrossFit Games)
- In-match substitutions are permitted
Athletes in the NPFL
Of note and likely by design, CrossFit is never mentioned as the league’s focus on the NPFL’s informational site, nor its recent video from its team operator meeting, which features CrossFit Games competitors Neal Maddox and 2007 Games Champion James “OPT” Fitzgerald.
It might be a nice surprise to see former professional athletes from other sports competing in the league. However, based on the sample workouts so far, which are structured with the same movements and measurement as CrossFit workouts, it looks like the sport will heavily favor CrossFit athletes.
The first season
The NPFL is slated to kick off in August, which means it’s well after the CrossFit Games. Top athletes could potentially be signed to a team during the Open, then compete in the NPFL’s first season after the Games.
Of course, one of the countless big questions about the NPFL is whether it will attract top Games-level individual or team talent, especially if it could potentially affect athletes’ regions for the Games.
Since the NPFL plans to pay its athletes, it could potentially provide an attractive financial option for top athletes who aren’t finishing atop the podium at events over the course of the year.
If the NPFL is able to secure television rights, will people watch it? The functional fitness community of somewhere around 7,000 gyms worldwide is certainly passionate and has helped build multiple businesses practically overnight. But is it ready to support a startup sports league?
The CrossFit Games generally attracts around 500,000 American viewers when it airs on ESPN, the country’s dominant sports channel. For now, the Games are the current Super Bowl of functional fitness events and are often referred to as the new World’s Strongest Man for alternative sports programming.
With good reason, like with any startup sports league, many are skeptical about the NPFL’s prospects. But for every Ultimate Fighting Championship, there seems to be a World Combat League or World Series of Fighting that is buried deep in your cable sports channels.
Though the UFC only attracts around two million American viewers when it airs on major network channels, it has a much larger fanbase and household name value compared to any CrossFit or functional fitness athlete or brand today.
Would the draw of watching a potential dream team of top Games-level athletes be enough to keep viewers hooked over the course of a season? Will the NPFL be able to find a home on a major sports network with quality production value that will keep casual viewers coming back?