Will You Watch This Brand-New Sport?
If you like CrossFit, team competition, and extreme athleticism, you might want to tune in
By Nick Bromberg
Football isn’t the only sport to look forward to this Fall. The National Pro Grid League kicks off its inaugural season on August 19. At first glance, The Grid looks like the CrossFit Games. And it’s no wonder: It’s founder and commissioner Tony Budding worked as a CrossFit executive for 10 years. However, Budding left because he believes the key to expanding and monetizing the sport is by making it more spectator- and sponsor-friendly. The CrossFit Games catered to CrossFitters. Budding wants to introduce this sport to a much broader audience. He wants fans.
That’s why the NPGL won’t be set up like the CrossFit Games. It’ll be modeled after other professional leagues like the NFL or NBA, with professional paid athletes. Potential Grid competitors attended a combine in April and May, and then a draft was held in July. Athletes who made one of the eight regional teams—the District of Columbia Brawlers, the San Francisco Fire, the Philadelphia Founders, the Boston Iron, the Los Angeles Reign, the New York Rhinos, the Phoenix Rise, and the Miami Surge—will earn $2,500 per match. Right now, only the top 10 individuals and top three teams of the CrossFit Games walk away with any money.
As for the matches, they involve two co-ed teams of 10, who will go head to head on a court or "Grid" that measures 94 feet by 50 feet. Each match lasts two hours and consists of 11 races that test strength, speed, endurance, and coordination. For example, in one race, men and women from each team must match each other rep-for-rep on heavy lifts without letting the barbell touch the floor. And since there are unlimited substitutions allowed, coaches can tailor the team lineups to each particular event. “At the CrossFit Games, you’re testing the fitness levels of the athletes,” says Budding. “What we’re doing is racing. Because of substitutions, we’re testing the strategy of the teams.”
Budding has high hopes for the league. Prices for floor level seat range from $100 to $225, and he’s hoping to attract an audience of 3,000 to 4,000 for every match. He says he has 40 inquiries for expansion teams in 2015, and that he’d like to eventually grow the NPGL to 32 teams so it’s on the same level as other mainstream sports. “I think this can be enormous,” says Budding. “The Grid is a great spectator sport and we’ll be able to grow it to the size of the NHL.” So tell us: Will you tune in?