In December of 2013, CrossFit Games’ executive producer and co-director, Tony Budding left to form a new competition. He had been working with CrossFit Inc. for the last 10 years, serving as a coach, affiliate director, and media director before leaving to open a new chapter in functional fitness’ book: The National Pro Grid League (NPGL.)
Unlike the CrossFit Games, Budding sees the NPGL as “the world’s first professional spectator sport with co-ed teams competing in human performance races.” Think of it as the NBA or NFL of functional fitness as opposed to the CrossFit Games being like the Olympics. Whereas the Games only gives out prize money to the top 10 individuals and top three teams, the NPGL professionalizes its athletes, meaning every team member gets paid. The eight inaugural teams in the league will pay their athletes a minimum of $2,500 per match. Teams are also city or region based to encourage a strong following from their respective home bases (imagine LA visiting New York)
Also unlike the Games, the NPGL’s events are announced – allowing the teams to plan, strategize, and practice ahead of time. In the matches themselves, two teams of 10 (five men, five women, with a mandatory one male and one female athlete over the age of 40) will compete over 11 matches spanning two hours in a place they call the Grid. They will then do a series of CrossFit-inspired workouts like thrusters, burpees, muscle-ups, and rope climbs, allowing substitutions to take place during the course of the match. The winning team to reach the finish line for each match receives two points, while the losing team receives 1 point. Any team who receives a DNF will get no points.
Confused? Don’t be. They even have a fancy scoreboard that updates with each athlete’s every rep, helping spectators keep track of the action. It’s a new development that NPGL organizers are banking on to help make functional fitness a spectator sport. Here, check it out:
While many high-profile CrossFit athletes, like Annie Thorisdottir, Andrea Ager, Kenny Leverich, and Khan Porter, have seen NPGL’s light and jumped on the bandwagon, many of Budding’s former colleagues at CrossFit Inc. think otherwise. Russ Green, CrossFit’s spokesperson, has been going around social media attempting to distance the Sport of Fitness from the up-and-coming league.
Despite having received no blessing from the company he helped build, Budding knows very well that CrossFit and the NPGL are two different things. While one is focused purely on fitness, the other is aimed towards sponsors, endorsements, ticket sales, and TV ratings (NBC will be covering the league’s playoffs in October, while the Games are relegated to ESPN2.) And for Budding, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“We are a spectator sport which means we exist for the fans,” he says. “Our goal is to make our teams and our athletes so compelling, so exciting, so speaking for the metropolitan area that they’re from, that people want to just be fans of the team.”
The question now is: Will fans get into the NPGL the way they are now coming in droves to the CrossFit Games? We’ll find out soon enough. The National Pro Grid League kicks off its inaugural match on Tuesday, August 19th, 7pm with the New York Rhinos facing off against the LA Reign at Madison Square Garden.