NFL In The UK Is On The Rise & Why Football Should Be Worried
If ever an article was set to divide opinion it is this new debate that has really come to the forefront in 2014. Can the NFL gain enough momentum to become one of the top sports in the UK? The ill-informed and traditionalists will shoot you down in flames immediately with a firm no and an enlightening ‘NFL is shit’. So does the NFL really stand a chance in the UK?
The NFL played its first game in London in 2007 with the New York Giants beating the Miami Dolphins 13-10 infront of a crowd of 81,176. Fast forward to 2014 and we now have 3 regular season games being played in London with a further three announced on 6th November 2014 for the 2015 round of International fixtures. Ever since this first game in London in 2007 the question ‘Could London have its very own NFL franchise?’ has been the hot topic of conversation at every game. At first glance the thought of an American NFL team being based in London seems ridiculous. That thought would however, be wrong. The flight time from the East coast of the US is 7(ish) hours to London and some teams currently fly similar times across the US for games.
And the key factor in all this is that an NFL franchise already have a man on the ground in London primed and ready to bring an NFL franchise to the UK. Shahid Kahn is the owner of Fulham FC and also the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars who are playing their second game in London in the past 2 years. Spend a couple of minutes searching around and you’ll discover that this isn’t a pipe dream and very much a reality expected to land in the next 3-4 years.
Would British sports fans attend regular NFL games at Wembley?
This is the ultimate question on everyones lips and so far the fans have answered in pretty emphatic fashion. Look at the attendances of the last few games for the NFL London fixtures and the last 3 England International fixtures.
England Football Team
England vs San Marino – 9th October 2014 – 55,990
England vs Norway – 3rd September 2014 – 40,181
England vs Denmark 5th March 2014 – 65,873
NFL 2014 International Series
Miami Dolphins vs Oakland Raiders – September 28th 2014 – 83,436
Detroit Lions vs Atlanta Falcons – October 26th 2014 – 83,532
Dallas Cowboys vs Jacksonville Jaguars – November 9th 2014 – TBC (Tickets sold out at time of writing)
On attendances alone the NFL wins hands down. Now it would be easy to judge this argument on attendances alone and the reason for the low football attendances is due to the fact the England national team are average at best and that is being incredibly kind. On the flip-side the high NFL attendances can be attributed to the novelty factor and curious nature of new fans. This is no bad thing of course, myself and a few guys at Average Joes attended our first NFL games during this 2014 International Series and we absolutely loved the whole spectacle. The debate rages on as to whether these high attendance levels could be sustained every couple of weeks when the novelty wears off.
But Football Is Much Better To Watch
Is it?. The revenue generated from domestic and international TV rights for the English Premier League is around £5.5bn. Some of the Worlds best players grace the EPL every week, but, is that enough? Only last week Jose Mourihno likened their recent home game against Leicester to playing ‘in an empty stadium’. This is the top team in the EPL who are on course to claim a top 2 finish yet they can’t generate an atmosphere when they are winning. Chelsea are not alone in this problem – have you been to a game at the Emirates lately? Things don’t get much better in the Championship. We have been regular visitors to Norwich City (our local team) over the years and the atmosphere has slowly faded. Partly due to the shocking performances in the EPL and partly due to the power-hungry stewards hell bent on killing any form of atmosphere or enjoyment at a game.
From the moment you arrive at Wembley you know the NFL roadshow is in town and they certainly want you to know about it. Fan parks, DJs, food stalls, beer huts, merchandise tents, game zones, cheerleaders and thousands of fans mingling and getting into the spirit of things is what you will find outside of the stadium. This is the big difference between an NFL game and an EPL game. All fans are mixed in together and drinks are available to everyone. Can you imagine a Budweiser beer hut outside of the Emirates? No, us neither.
Get into the stadium and things are immediately different.
Now we aren’t trying to sound like your ‘A-typical male’ who has to drink their own bodyweight in beer everytime they go to a sporting event – but you are permitted to drink alcohol in the stands. At English football grounds across the UK it is strictly soft drinks only allowed in the stands. Yet, at an NFL game you can take as much alcohol back to your seat as you like. What’s the difference? Are NFL fans and Football fans different people? No, they are the same people.
We attended the Atlanta Falcons vs Detroit Lions game in October 2014 which saw the Lions trail 21-0 at half time to come back and win 22-21 with the last kick of the game. It was genuinely gripping stuff that had us standing for the vast majority of the game (and we weren’t told to sit down either!) and it made for an unbelievable finish. We didn’t support either team, hell our NFL allegiance is still up for grabs, but it was the football equivalent of a 93rd minute penalty to win the game.
It’s not just the fact that you can drink alcohol in the stands or that all the fans are mixed together. Its the fact the home team encourages you to make as much noise as you can. Namely when the opposition are attacking. They do this by playing edited cut-scenes on the giant screens instructing fans to make some noise. This may sound a little cheesy but you can’t help but get involved. They are so good the Atlanta Falcons even feature the main man Samuel L Jackson in a pumping pre-game video – check it out.
So Does The NFL Stand A Chance?
The thing to remember is that the NFL is not a new sport – it has a huge following here in the UK. There is also an enormous amount of fans that are new to the game. So you have an existing, passionate fan base who can’t wait to see more NFL games here in the UK and a large number of fans who can be converted into NFL followers.
With more and more officials and NFL teams getting behind the idea of a London franchise and the marketing power of the NFL it’s hard to find many reasons as to why a London based team wouldn’t attract the big crowds.
But lets not forget the crucial point in all this. You can be an NFL fan and still be Football fan. You’ll just get a different experience at both events. Which one you prefer is down to personal choice – just don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.