A Panthers legend went to Germany to teach a little football last week, and walked away impressed by how much the kids there already knew.
Former Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker was part of a flag football clinic hosted by the team in Frankfurt, where 90 youth players from co-ed leagues in local schools came to learn more about the game. That was followed by a local NFL flag football tournament the next day, where they could show off their new skills.
"I was struck by the enthusiasm of the kids, those who were experiencing the sport of flag football for the first time and their willingness to learn something new and different," Rucker said. "Then, I was blown away by the fundamental skill development of the kids playing in the school tournament. They've been playing for only three months, but you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between their level of play and kids back home who have been playing for several seasons."
The Panthers have provided 25-plus youth teams across Frankfurt with Panthers game jerseys, shorts, mouthguards, and other Panthers-branded equipment. And in a short time, they see the game growing there.
"The sport of flag football is growing rapidly in Germany and the direct engagement by the Carolina Panthers is benefitting, and will benefit, our efforts to have flag football included in school curriculums throughout the country," said Max von Garnier, a former NFL Europe quarterback with the Rhein Fire who now leads the growth of NFL Flag in Germany. "Having the Panthers staff, as well as Mike Rucker, working directly with kids who are new to the game will make a real impact as we expand interest and support for flag football."
The clinic was part of broader efforts by the Panthers to promote the game in Germany, as they hosted a watch party in Frankfurt in September with Steve Smith Sr., Sir Purr, and the Top Cats. The event was partnered with the German soccer club Eintracht Frankfurt. The Bundesliga club is competing in the UEFA Champions League this season after winning the 2021-22 UEFA Europa League championship.
The Panthers will also be in Munich on the weekend of Nov. 12-13, when that city will play host to an NFL matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Panthers will host fans and partners at a venue close to the stadium, which will be decked out in Panthers colors and paraphernalia.
The team has had a presence in Germany since 2019, with multiple German social media channels and a German-language section of Panthers.com. The team has found a passionate base of fans there, including the country's Roaring Riot supporter's club.
In December 2021, the Panthers were awarded International Home Marketing Area (IHMA) rights in Germany by the NFL. The IHMA rights grant the Panthers access to Germany for marketing, fan engagement, and commercialization as part of the NFL's long-term, strategic effort to build global brands and drive NFL fan growth internationally. The Panthers are one of 19 teams granted access to 26 International Home Marketing Areas (IHMA) across 10 different countries.
As part of that program, the Panthers have the rights to pursue activities in Germany that are consistent with those available to the team in the Carolinas. This includes in-person and digital marketing, corporate sponsorship sales, fan events and activations, youth football activities, merchandise sales, and co-marketing relationships with other sports and entertainment properties in the market. The NFL has committed to international games, and all 32 teams will play at least one over the next eight seasons.
There's already a close connection to Germany in Charlotte, as more than 200 German companies have a home in the region, and this was a chance to deepen the relationship.
And as Rucker and the Panthers contingent found out this week in Frankfurt, some of these kids already know how to go deep.
"The Panthers' commitment to supporting and advancing flag football is well-documented, but the opportunity to help introduce the sport to first-time players in Germany is special, said Panthers director of community relations Riley Fields. "There is a real hunger for NFL football in Germany, so the opportunity to connect with the Frankfurt community, establish relationships and help build the Panthers fan base internationally is also rewarding."