Flag football is a sport that is certifiably on the grow. Flag football was featured at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama in 2022, where both U.S. national teams performed in a spectacular fashion, with the men winning the gold medal and the women taking the silver. In 2028, it will be showcased at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
On the youth level, flag has also gained yardage, with the National Federation of State High School Associations reporting that a total of 20,875 girls participated in the sport in 2022-23, an increase of 32 percent. Seven states now sponsor a state championship in girls flag and more are in the planning stages. The sport is strong at the municipal and league level as well.
SDM sat down with representatives of two organizations, Michael Reimel, owner of Flag Football Life, and Izell Reese, Chief Executive Officer of RCX Sports and Executive Director of NFL FLAG, to take the pulse of the sport and to learn about the latest developments.
SDM: Please tell us a little about your organization.
Reimel: Flag Football Life put on about 20 tournaments in 2023, mainly in the Northeast.
Izell Reese: To kick off 2023, we hosted the NFL FLAG Championships at the Pro Bowl Games in Las Vegas, marking the first time that the flag format was played in the Pro Bowl Games by active NFL players. We also introduced the inaugural All 32 Tournament in Washington, D.C., a two-day invitational featuring two teams representing each NFL franchise, for a total of 64 teams. Lastly, there are a mix of regional championships each year. For example, in 2023 we hosted 22 regional tournaments in locations like New Orleans, Indianapolis and Los Angeles. In 2024, we are expecting regional locations to expand to all 32 NFL Club markets.
SDM: What are the factors that contribute to the growth of flag football as a whole?
Michael Reimel: It’s inexpensive to play, fast-paced, has fewer potential injuries, and we are optimistic about its permanent inclusion in the Olympics someday. There are also college scholarships for females!
SDM: Are there any countries (outside the USA) that are considered potential hotbeds for programs?
Reimel: The growth is worldwide. Mexico, Panamá and Canada are very popular and we are now starting to see even more throughout Europe.
Reese: Flag football has already made a huge impact at the international level, with Team Mexico winning the gold medal in female flag football over the United States at the 2022 World Games. Following Team Mexico’s victory, quarterback Diana Flores has become an incredible global ambassador for flag football and an inspiration for female flag athletes to chase their dreams. NFL FLAG features leagues in Canada and the Bahamas, just to name a few, so we’re rapidly bringing the sport to new audiences outside the United States.
SDM: What kind of numbers are you seeing in terms of participation?
Reese: Since 2019, we’ve seen NFL FLAG participation more than double, increasing from 300,000 to nearly 700,000 participants over the last four years. A large number of younger athletes are first introduced to football through flag. In addition, the natural transition from tackle to flag football, as well as growth among female athletes, collegiate athletics and international exposure, together make up several driving forces behind this expansion.
SDM: Is there pickup at the municipal level?
Reimel: We’re seeing a lot of growth at the recreational/municipal level; it’s a fun sport that kids and their parents both love.
Reese: We recently announced a first-of-its-kind partnership with the Alabama Recreation and Parks Association this year to ensure every park and recreation department in the state will have the resources needed to offer each of our youth sports, including NFL FLAG, at the municipal level. We look forward to expanding this recreational partnership approach to other states in the future.
SDM: The National Federation of State High School Association has documented an enormous increase in participation in girls’ flag football. Any idea how many schools have formal programs, at both the high school and college levels?
Reimel: We know the number is rapidly growing. Pennsylvania, for example, now has 60 teams. States like Florida and Georgia have over 200 schools participating, and nationwide, more and more are picking up.
Reese: There are eight sanctioned states at the high school level: Florida, Georgia, Alaska, Nevada, New York, California, Arizona, and Alabama. An additional 30+ states are either piloting the sport or have shown interest in adding girls’ flag football. In the collegiate space, there will be 30+ schools offering women’s flag football, with Atlantic East being the first NCAA conference to add the sport.
As more athletes who played flag football at the youth level age into high school and college athletics, they’re looking to continue playing the sport they love. And as more collegiate flag football opportunities become available, those athletes will benefit from the same opportunities as tackle athletes.
SDM: In your estimation, what are the chances that women’s flag will be added as an NCAA Emerging Sport across all divisions? We have seen NAIA list it as an Emerging Sport, and it is already offered as a full sport by the NJCAA.
Reese: Earlier this year, we announced a partnership with the Atlantic East conference in NCAA Division III, bringing female flag football as an emerging sport for the first time in women’s collegiate sports history. Starting in spring 2025, female athletes at five institutions (Centenary, Cabrini, Immaculata, Marymount and Neumann) will be able to take part in varsity flag football, and we’re excited to see this trend continue.
Reimel: And I’m sure eventually it will be at the Division I level as that growth continues.
SDM: What do you look for when selecting sites and destinations to host your events?
Reimel: We look for sports commissions and visitors’ bureaus that have something to offer, as well as facilities and demographics that make sense for the growth of the sport.
Reese: Sites are based in proximity to whichever NFL franchise is sponsoring leagues in that region. For example, NFL FLAG tournaments in Louisiana are hosted by the New Orleans Saints.
SDM: What are the goals of your organizations for the coming year?
Reimel: To offer an amazing product and continue growth into new markets.
Reese: We want to continue improving accessibility and inclusivity for youth sports across the U.S. and around the world. It’s at the heart of everything we do at RCX Sports.
SDM: Anything else you’d like to add?
Reimel: Flag football is for everyone. It does not matter where you are from, what you look like, the language you speak, or how athletic you are, this sport has a place for everyone and that is why it is so beautiful. SDM