BAFA have made it clear that they wish to “professionalise” the sport of American Football in the UK. That could be achieved in all manner of ways. But what lessons could BAFA take from a team’s example?
Especially if that team regularly draws in over 200 spectators to their home games and raises more than £700 in revenue from local businesses (to then re-invest it back into the team). Maybe there’s something we could take away from The Scunthorpe Alphas approach to playing football in the UK.
Something I like about northern folk is their strong community spirit and family values. And that is at the heart of the Alphas. A prime example is their commitment to the local population of Scunthorpe.
A lot of time and effort goes into home fixtures at Quibell Park Stadium. They have a bar, children’s entertainment (usually in the form of bouncy castles), commentary via a tannoy system, marching bands (including a showing from the RAF), cheerleaders, and local businesses bringing mostly food offerings for fans, players, and coaches alike.
So, you can imagine their disappointment that 2 home games have been cancelled. Including one fixture that was cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice, despite offering to redshirt the QBs and only play 3rd and 4th string players. But the Alphas are a resilient bunch. On the day they were supposed to play the Doncaster Mustangs, they turned a negative into a positive by hosting an open scrimmage/fun day.
Using their tannoy system, they held an NFL-style draft to assign players to O and D (this even included some players from the Mustangs who decided to show up anyway). The result: they had a great day and signed 4 new rookie players. They even had roughly 70s spectators show up. All proceeds were donated to a local donkey sanctuary.
How did it all start?
Head Coach Alex Robson and Chairman Warwick Grosvenor, along with friends Nick Tomaszewski, Iain Heron-Stamp, and Mikey Grey, brought American football to Scunthorpe in 2019.
I first met Alex and Warwick at the Lincolnshire Bombers way back in 2011 and knew them to be very dedicated to that team. But in 2016 they joined the newly formed Humber Warhawks before moving on again, this time to Sheffield Giants, in 2017. However, they figured they could go it alone and build something new. And it paid off.
The first rookie day attracted roughly 125 people. Of which, 65 signed up to play. 40 of those were brand new to the sport. As with Northants Knights, the Alphas went through a very rigorous associate process. But this seems to have helped to instil a strong supportive culture. The Alphas were scheduled to play the Etone Jaguars, Northants Knights, and Hereford stampede for their associate games. The rule was to play 3 home games and 2 away.
The Alphas found 3 teams and arranged home and away fixtures, to be sure. Unfortunately, the Jaguars folded before being able to play at the Alphas, meaning that the Alphas had played 3 away games and only 2 home games.
Leicester Falcons stood up to the mark only to cancel the game a few days before, denying the Alphas from passing the associate process and gaining league status the good old-fashioned way.
3 years into existence and the Alphas are sitting atop of the NFC 2 South with a 100 pct. Ok, so 2 games have been forfeited (by teams that couldn’t score against them in their first games, no less). But despite that, they have still clocked up over 100 points. They have bagged a burger. They have even dominated the very experienced Lincolnshire Bombers.
In fact, HC Alex has a personal record of beating his old team 6-0, as a coach, since leaving them. The Alphas also have a good Youth programme established with U19 and U16 squads. They hope to start an U13 flag team and a Women’s team next year.
The Alpha approach is simple. They give the players somewhere to feel valued, local businesses something to buy into, a community a team to get behind. They are continually moving from strength to strength. This is what professionalising the sport should be about.
Having a collection of well-established teams that provide entertainment, community spirit, and a brand you can be proud of. What does it mean to be an Alpha? Just be the best version of yourself. And this team has aspirations to be the best version of a professional British American Football team.