Participation & Sales Trends
Flag Football Data. Flag football’s popularity is soaring in the U.S. and internationally. The annual participation study from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) reveals that in 2022, in terms of overall participation, there were 7.1 million flag football players in the U.S., of which 5.8 million are male and 1.3 million are female. Of those 7.1 million, 2.4 million are classified as core participants who play 13 days or more a year; 40 percent of all flag football players are age 6-17 year olds; and 55 percent are between the ages of 6 and 24.
More Flag Facts: More than 59 percent of players are Caucasian; 51 percent are from households that make at least $75,000 a year; 42 percent have not earned a high school diploma; and 25 percent live in the South Atlantic region.
Besides playing flag football, the five most popular athletic and recreational activities for flag football players are basketball, bowling, baseball, camping and working out on the treadmill.
Tackle Football Data. According to SFIA, overall participation in tackle football – for ages six and above – is trending in the right direction, but has not made a complete recovery from concerns ranging from concussions and overall safety to the COVID pandemic.
On the plus side, in 2022, there were 5.4 million tackle football players, up from 5.1 million in 2019. However, there were only 2.3 million core participants — those who play 26 days or more a year. By contrast, in 2019 there were 2.7 million core players and in 2017 there were 3.1 million.
Not surprisingly, 91 percent of all football players in the U.S. are male and 60 percent are between the ages of six and 17.
High School Tackle Football Findings.
Eleven-player tackle football remains the most popular high school sport, with more than one million participants, according to the NFHS. In fact, the 2022-23 school year saw an increase of 54,969 players, up 5.6 percent from the previous year.
Not only did 11-player football top the one-million mark, the increase was the first one for the sport since 2013 and only the second increase since the all-time high of 1.1 million in the 2008-09 school year.
There also was a slight gain – from 34,935 to 35,301 – in the number of boys playing 6-player, 8-player and 9-player football.
Girls Got Game, Too. The number of girls playing football – particularly flag football – continues to climb as well. A total of 20,875 girls players in 2022-23, an increase of 32 percent from 2021-22. According to the NFHS, seven states now sponsor a state championship in girls’ flag football and more are in the planning stages. Since 2021-22, the number of girls playing 11-player football increased by 18 percent with 3654 participants.
Put together, boys and girls participation in all versions of high school football increased from 1,028,976 to 1,089,880 – a jump of six percent – from 2021-22 to 2022-23.
High School Flag Football Figures.
According to the NFHS, the top five states with the most female high school flag football players are Florida (7809 participants), Georgia (3866), Nevada (1508), New York (1020 and Alabama (665). Other states with girls playing high school flag football include California and Alaska.
Flag vs. Tackle. Based on figures from the SFIA, there are more flag football players (1.8 million) in the U.S. between the ages of six and 12 than there are tackle football players (1.4 million).
NFL Backs Flag Football. NFL Flag, the official flag football organization of the NFL, offers youth athletes a fun, inclusive, non-contact sport. NFL Flag serves more than half a million children and operates more than 1600 local leagues.
Pigskin Profits. From a spending perspective, football keeps the cash registers ringing for team dealers and sporting goods retailers. According to the SFIA’s Manufacturers Sales by Category Report, wholesale sales of football gear (footballs, protective gear, blocking sleds, goal posts and accessories) reached $662.5 million in 2022, up 6.5 percent from $621.9 million in 2021.
Flag Football @ 2028 LA Olympics
Olympic Dreams Come True. The BIG news for the sport of football is that flag football will debut as an Olympic sport at the Summer Games in Los Angeles in 2028. In mid-October the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved the addition of flag football, paving the way for USA Football’s U.S. National Teams to make their Olympic debut. The IOC’s decision came after the LA28 Organizing Committee recommended flag football and four other sports (cricket, baseball/softball, lacrosse and squash) for inclusion.
Flag football in the Olympics will be a 5-on-5 game played on a 50-yard field. There are no offensive and defensive linemen.
According to LA Olympics chairman Casey Wasserman, the new sports are “relevant, innovative and community-based, played in backyards, schoolyards, community centers, stadiums and parks across the U.S. and the globe.”
Who Plays for the U.S.? USA Football, the sport’s governing body, is the organization responsible for selecting and leading the U.S. National Teams.
“We are incredibly thankful to the IOC and LA28 Organizing Committee for recognizing flag football as a sport worthy of inclusion in the Olympic Games and we share our excitement and celebrate this historic occasion with the millions of flag football players across our country,” says Scott Hallenbeck, CEO of USA Football. “The decision to add flag football to the 2028 Summer Olympic program in Los Angeles is an acknowledgment of the sport’s tremendous international growth and appeal as a fast, exciting and competitive sport.”
According to Hallenbeck, this decision by the IOC confirms that USA Football’s year-round efforts to promote football and flag football did not fall on deaf ears.
“USA Football works tirelessly to support the sport’s exponential growth at all levels by encouraging the creation of more pathways to play and inclusion in the Olympic Games will have a transformative impact on our sport — from the grassroots level to our elite U.S. National Teams,” Hallenbeck adds. “As the governing body of American football in the United States, we are committed to continuing to work closely with IFAF, the USOPC and the NFL as we pursue our collective efforts to grow the game for current and future generations.”
The Gronk Speaks: Now that flag football is going to be in the Olympics, none other than recently retired NFL star Rob Gronkowski has weighed in with an offer to join the national squad. “Hopefully there’s no tryouts and they just accept me,” Gronkowski said. “But I’m in. USA going all the way!”
Youth Football With Pop Warner
After a well-documented COVID-fueled dip in enrollment along with most other team sports, youth football is experiencing a bounce back. One of the reasons is certainly because of steps taken to make sure it has never been safer, according to Pop Warner Little Scholars executive director Jon Butler, who has been leading the Pop Warner Football program for the last 32 years.
“Since 1929, Pop Warner has been the prominent youth football organization in America,” Butler tells Team Insight from his Langhorne, PA, office. “For decades, we’ve provided kids in communities all across the country an opportunity to play football. As the game has evolved, we’ve evolved with it and, at many times, spearheaded the way.”
According to Butler, participation in Pop Warner’s youth football program is higher now than during pre-COVID pandemic levels. And from a safety perspective Pop Warner has led the charge to make the game safer and better for young players – for ages 5 to 15 – by instituting a number of measures and protocols over the past decade.
“Pop Warner was the first football organization to reduce the amount of physical contact in practices,” notes Butler. “We removed the three-point stance and kickoffs for our younger ages and mandated coaching education around how to teach blocking and tackling — all guided by a medical advisory board made up of physicians, researchers, neurosurgeons, sports medicine and concussion specialists.
“And, while not specific to safety, we are implementing a program that will improve behavior of players, coaches, fans and parents. We want the experience of playing youth football to be something positive that influences the lives of these kids for years to come.”
The Pop Warner Little Scholars program, which has been in existence since 1929, is present in 35 states.
“We have hundreds of community associations that run local youth football programs,” Butler explains. “Our largest level of participation is for eight-to-11-year olds and the number of players on a team averages around 26.”
In addition to tackle football, Pop Warner has a widely respected cheer and dance program and a flag football initiative, which is inclusive of all young athletes who want to participate in a sport, compete and be part of a team.
When children are registered to play tackle football under the Pop Warner banner, their registration fee covers paying for helmets, shoulder pads, uniforms, officiating fees, insurance, field usage and lighting. It’s the responsibility of the players to buy cleats, practice pants, practice jerseys, socks and gloves.
Notable News and Newsworthy Notes
And, Then There Was One
Next spring the two professional spring football leagues in the U.S. will become one as the United States Football League (USFL) and XFL plan to merge. The USFL’s games were televised by NBC, Fox and FS1, while the XFL’s games were on ABC and the ESPN family of networks.
Super Bowl in London?
“That is not out of the question,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said recently at a fan forum in London. But for time being, all Super Bowls will remain in the U.S., according to the NFL. “Super Bowls will remain in cities that have (NFL) franchises,” confirmed Goodell. The next three will be in Las Vegas (2024); New Orleans (2025) and Santa Clara (2026). The NFL placed three games in London and two games in Germany on its 2023 schedule.
New Amateur Adult Football League
For those who can’t get enough playing, there’s the new Elite American Football League (EAFL), consisting of 59 teams in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. In 2022, the league championship game featured the Bay Area Reapers (St. Petersburg, FL) vs. the Bold City Thunder (Jacksonville, FL). The Reapers prevailed, 13-8. In 2023, the league championship game featured the South Florida Browns (Hollywood, FL) vs. the Georgia Cobras (Thomasville, GA). The Browns won, 21-20.