Beginning in February, America’s overseas troops will have their own version of 50-yardline, front-row seats as retired and current NFL players, NFL cheerleaders and NFL mascots make appearances at about 70 military venues around the world. AFE’s Pro Blitz tour is one of the most anticipated events of the year, as troops and their accompanied family members have the unique opportunity to attend clinics, performances, watch parties and meet-and-greet gatherings – or simply hang out with NFL greats.
About half a dozen teams participate in each AFE Pro Blitz tour. Because the 2021 events were canceled, the upcoming 2022 tour promises to be extra special, says Brian Burke, AFE marketing and business analyst. “The players, the cheerleaders, the hall of famers, the mascots, everyone is excited to get back out to spend time with the troops,” he says.
It takes intricate planning to nail down exactly which NFL teams will be represented on the tour. But the AFE team is filled with pros at those kind of logistics. “We work with the NFL team management, sports promoters within the NFL, and occasionally the NFL Players Association to set up agreements on which individuals are going out,” explains Burke. The negotiating happens months before the event dates.
Because the participation is set up so far in advance, the playoffs can often influence the tour dates. “The Big Game has a huge impact on the final tour dates and rosters. Depending on the playoffs and which teams are in that game, it’s only fair to give the players at least two weeks after their season ends to recuperate before they head overseas,” Burke says. “That could be the case this year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and maybe even the Baltimore Ravens. But who knows? It’s a long way off,” he laughs.
The AFE Pro Blitz Experience
Here’s the play-by-play of gameday at an AFE Pro Blitz event:
- Six or so NFL teams each create a core group of current players, retired/hall of fame players, cheerleaders and mascots to represent them
- The groups divide into 10 or more in-person tours with each tour going to 5 or 6 bases, depending on the ability of the theaters to accommodate the tours.
The activities at each base vary, but generally include:
- Clinics for adults and kids, led by players and cheerleaders, focusing on fitness, positivity, and teamwork
- Cheerleaders often conduct 30 – 90 minute cheer classes for kids
- Players often conduct 30 – 90 minute football fundamentals classes for kids
- Fan experiences that provide an opportunity to hear from the pros, meet and chat with them, take pictures and get autographs
- Cheer squads perform dance and acrobatic routines during their meet-and-greets
- Watch parties for fun “hang out” times, when everyone can Monday morning quarterback watching games and analyzing play.
Burke says the players see the Pro Blitz tour as a way to get to know our troops. “It’s not unusual for them to take time to go to the chow hall and sit with people just to learn about them, or throw the ball around with groups of friends and have fun. It’s great for current/retired players and cheer squads to be immersed in the fan excitement up close.”
And it’s really personal for a lot of those on the tour. “Some of the players have family in the military, or have gone out on tour with AFE in the past. They know how much it means to everyone for them to be out there. It’s just one way the NFL gives back to America. And we’re so grateful they’ve chosen to work with AFE to do so.”
To see more details about the 2022 Pro Blitz tour, visit afeproblitz.com. Overseas activities kick off 2 February and run through 23 February.