Five years ago, Marc G. Lory thought he had reached the end of his rope. He and eight buddies had scaled Alaska's Mt. McKinley, but on the descent, a sudden snowstorm trapped them for four days and three nights. With 80-mile-an-hour winds, zero visibility, and no landing strip, rescue by air seemed out of the question. Food and fuel supplies were running low.
Whenever the storm receded, the group tamped down snow with skis to make a runway. They outlined the strip with snow-filled garbage bags. As an experienced pilot, Lory was able to calculate their position and, at the storm's next break, radio in a rescue plane. They were lifted out within an hour. "It was the most frightening, and thrilling, experience of my life," says Lory.
DOTTY EFFORT? Experience quarterbacking a rescue will come in handy at Lory's new job. The National Football League and joint-venture partner Fox Inc. have hired Lory, a 44-year-old Frenchman with an MBA from the University of Chicago and a reputation as a hotshot marketer, to revive the World League of American Football, which kicks off again on Apr. 8 with a 10-game season. The league had a near-death experience of its own: Its previous effort ended in the midst of Europe's 1992 recession after just two seasons of play and $50 million in losses.
Reviving the league now may seem dotty. But American football has thousands of fans in Europe. Amateur leagues have sprouted all across the Continent: Germany alone has 228 clubs. Average attendance at six London World League games in 1991 was 45,700. Ticket sales for the American Bowl, held every August in London between the Super Bowl champs and another NFL team, have never dipped below 43,500. The NFL this year will sell $250 million worth of merchandise in Europe, about the same as the National Basketball Assn., says Nick Price, NFL Properties Inc.'s European director.
There are other reasons why this go-round is more likely to succeed: a three-year startup fund of $40 million from the NFL and Rupert Murdoch's Fox Sports, for one. A salary cap, for another: Players will receive bare-bones salaries of $15,000 for the season (quarterbacks will get $20,000). Total annual outlay for player salaries: less than $4 million. There will be no U.S.-based teams this time, just European ones. And each roster of 40 will have 7 local players--often soccer or rugby heroes--and 33 American gridders who didn't make the cut for the NFL.
Also working in Lory's favor: Europe's media business, which has undergone a sea change since the last World Football foray. Television is no longer dominated by governments or limited to terrestrial channels. Most countries now have cable and satellite TV and new commercial broadcasters hungry for programming.
Lory, the man who turned Vuarnet eyewear into a fashion statement by sponsoring on-the-edge athletic events, plans to use his marketing acumen to make football an entertainment extravaganza, with rock bands at halftime, fireworks, and cheerleaders. "That's what sports is all about--entertainment and sponsorship," says Lory. "People will pay for American culture and entertainment. We'll be part of the globalization of sport." His model is the NBA, which has successfully promoted its image overseas and turned Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal into teen idols from Bombay to Budapest (BW--Dec. 5).
MTV IMAGE. Lory's strategy is to sell football as a "safe" alternative to the fan violence of soccer. Says George J. Krieger, executive vice-president of Fox Sports: "Our goal is to introduce a sport that's safe and fun. You can bring your wife and kids and have a wonderful night out." The plan includes making equipment available to grade schools to drum up interest and sponsoring flag football contests for youth clubs. Lory also hopes to package football with music to attract the MTV generation. He and MTV Europe President Peter L. Einstein are talking about how they can give the World League "more of an MTV image."
"The market is ready for American football," says Lory. "People want it. It's an enormous force, like a tidal wave building up." That may sound like hype, but if Lory's game plan lives up to his pep talk, the World League should take off. By the way, how do you say "tailgate party" in Dutch?
Watch Out Europe, Here Comes American Football...Again
AMSTERDAM ADMIRALS will play in 38,000-seat Olympic Stadium. Amsterdam also has a 15-team amateur league.
BARCELONA DRAGONS will play in 54,000-seat Montjuic Olympic Stadium; coached by a former Boston College coach.
DUSSELDORF RHEIN FIRE will play in the 57,000-seat Rheinstadion. Germans already are big American football fans, with 228 amateur teams.
FRANKFURT GALAXY will play in Waldstadion; managed by Oliver Luck, former Houston Oilers quarterback.
LONDON MONARCHS will play in a north London soccer stadium; will be run by a former Reebok marketing manager.
SCOTTISH CLAYMORES will play in Edinburgh's 67,000-seat Murrayfield. Team will include local pro rugby stars.