In December 2013, Tony Budding gave the first details about a new league, the National Pro Fitness League (NPFL) on Facebook. He described a team-based functional fitness league that feature teams facing off head-to-head like other professional sports organizations (ie NFL, MLB, NBA). More details emerged throughout the winter/spring of 2014 and Budding was everywhere promoting the new league.
Following a name change to the National Pro Grid League (NPGL), the inaugural season began with eight teams. The very first league match was held in Madison Square Gardens. Everything looked promising until the league halted operations in the middle of the season because potential investors were backing out.
The season did resume, albeit in a different format than originally planned. On top of that, the NPGL would end the season with a different CEO than when it had started. Jim Kean replaced Tony Budding as the CEO near the end of the season in a quiet move by the league.
Per Budding’s LinkedIn profile, he remained associated with the league through October 2015 as a Director. Budding also became involved as a consultant for LotLinx, Inc., working on social media and marketing strategies.
Then in August 2015, Budding became the Director of the Drone Racing League (DRL). Backed by venture capital firms, the league had a launch party on January 25, 2016, in anticipation of its first event on February 22. During the launch party, Budding stated, “You have to start with a vision. What are the stories? Is it a true sport? Is it entertainment? Are we going WWE, is it NASCAR? Formula 1? There are all sorts of ways we can address it?”
This sounds very familiar to what was said in the beginning stages of the NPGL. Budding claimed the stories of the athletes and the matches will drive interest in the NPGL. On top of that, the first event was at the Miami Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium with extremely high production value. Sound familiar?
What is interesting is Budding’s comments about being similar to the WWE. Budding commented that they enhance some of the drone crashes for effect. Budding commented, “What we tend to do is, after everything is done, for some spectacular crashes we loosen bolts and we put some plastic parts on and fly them as fast as we can into something very hard. It makes them spectacular.” This brings into question whether the DRL executives want this league to be known as a legitimate sport or as an entertainment entity.
For all those who have followed CrossFit back in the day (remember the 2011 CrossFit Open announcement videos?) or watched as the NPGL took shape, keep an eye on the DRL and whether Tony Budding can successfully launch a new niche league.