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NFL in the UK, is American Football Finally Making Waves Across the Pond?

April 16th, 2015 at 12:46 PM
By Sports Media 101

Over in the UK, it appears that the Brits are developing a bit of a thing for American Football: When tickets went online in in early 2015 they were sold out in minutes for games being played in November. Fans have been filling London streets in the official NFL Fan Rallies, with 40,000 expected to attend. Even online sportsbooks are getting in on the NFL action with UK betting sites pumping out unprecedented NFL offers to British gamblers (click here for betting information). The question is though, can the Brits handle American football for the long term or is it just a fling?

This year will see 6 NFL teams play in one of the UK’s most prominent sports site, Wembley stadium. Fans in Britain, including quite a few travelling Americans will get to see the New York Jets vs Miami Dolphins, the Buffallo Bills vs Jaksonville Jaguars and the Detroit Lions vs the Kansas City Chief. NFL big dog Mark Waller, thought what really was going to get the fans going was the prospect of the first Divisional rivalry to be played on British soil between the Jets and the Dolphins. With all this off field success there is even talk that the NFL might open up permanent shop with a London Franchise.

All signs point that this maybe a very real possibility. On top of a consistent fan base and sell out crowds, there is also increased media coverage of football and greater participation at youth level in the UK. Particularly in a year where NFL seems to be attracting a lot of negative publicity surrounding various high profile and very serious player and coach, arrests and public fall outs (how many sports globally have a dedicated page from a major publication tracking number of arrests??), expansion overseas could not come at a better time.

Historically in terms of the success of a foreign expansion there are major warning signs. The London Monarchs is a relic of the last time NFL tried to expand specifically into England. Back then there were positive signs too, and initially they used to regularly 40,000 tickets at the old Wembley stadium, but eventually folded in 1999. Talk of the London Monarchs might bring back memories of NFL Europe, and the ill-fated World bowl, we say might because it hasn’t been in existence since 2007.

If a successful stint in the UK does result in a London Franchise, there is no way of telling if this is even good for the long term growth of the game, as there’s a risk that having multiple games abroad alienates long term fans who’ve invested a lot in supporting their teams – even the most die-hard super fan would struggle to travel the West Coast all the way to London. Ironically Britain’s premier soccer product the English Premier League, has tried to and failed multiple times to play one of each of the 38 teams seasonal games abroad, to no success. There were complaints across all levels, particularly among grass roots supporters, but also teams and business stakeholders.

Overall though it must be said, that at least this time around the NFL can approach this latest attempt at expansion with a touch of hindsight, being able to draw from mistakes made in the past. Moreover people in the UK know more about American Football than ever before. The globalisation phenomenon that was the internet means that the average person in the street is already more likely to have a basic understanding of what American Football is all about than they ever did before, and this is without direct and targeted marketing initiatives implemented by the NFL itself. Time will inevitably tell whether this expansion will be a success, for now however it’s best just to sit back and watch.

Tags: Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, NFL, NFL Draft

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