The NFL comes to London…….Why?

23 10 2009

Its an incredible stadium, I’ve seen it on TV, I’ve watched a lot of European soccer”

Tom Brady, New England Patriots Quarterback discussing Wembley Stadium, London

One of the first things you realise when you arrive in the USA is the fanatical devotion to sport.

For most Americans, sport defines their identity and their culture. It showcases the best aspects of the country in the communal aspects of watching games (and tailgating) whilst also revealing a slight insular nature in the fact that the most popular sports in the US cannot really be considered Global Games.

Being World Champions in American Football or winning the World Series in baseball, whilst being a tremendous achievement for those teams and providing joy for the people that actually matter (the fans), is not that impressive if you are the only nation allowed to be in the competition.

We live in an era of global branding in sports.

Manchester United, the New York Yankees (if only in a fashion sense, the number of people wearing a baseball cap in the UK who actually know what baseball is wouldn’t fill Fenway Park) and  Real Madrid are recognized on a global basis, their fan base exceeds the limitations of their own environment.

So it seems logical that other sports would want a piece of the global appreciation pie.

This weekend the NFL descends upon the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium to showcase the talents of the New England Patriots (just beat Tennessee 59-0) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (on a run of 10 successive defeats). The game has been a sell out for months and actually forms part of the regular NFL season (Tampa are playing at “home”) but who is the game actually intended to be for the benefit of?

The fans haven’t been considered, although there will be those who will use the opportunity to fly over for a long weekend in London. But they will form a very small part of the 90,000 crowd, regular season ticket holders will have to watch the game on TV, with requisite time difference.

The expat community in the UK?

Possibly, but would you go and see live NFL just for the sake of it (unless of course I am seriously misjudging the amount of New Englanders and former Tampa residents in the UK).

English American Football fans?

Again, a small community who probably remember Channel 4 broadcasting the NFL in the 80’s and who may have even followed the World League of American Football between 1991-93 (featuring the London Monarchs and the Scottish Claymores) before it was replaced with NFL Europe from 1995-2007 (hard to believe that this watered down competition lasted 12 years! I had even forgotten that the London Monarchs actually played a season of home games at White Hart Lane – the home of my beloved Tottenham Hotspur).

Curious Observers or members of Club Wembley?

Unlikely, the game can only be considered a minor sport in the UK (although the BBC is now showing the Superbowl) and the fact that it sold out so quickly probably indicates that there is some grassroots support already in place.

So what exactly is the point of relocating two teams plus support staff to London? Certainly not an environmental concern, the carbon footprint vastly exceeds anticipated revenue.

In the Boston Globe last Sunday there was an interview with Roger Goodall (NFL Commissioner) who said that “People have said we could expand there (Europe or the UK?) within 10 years. I think that’s realistic.”

Really,  Mr Goodall? Realistic?

Nice to see that delusion isn’t only limited to politicians and Paris Hilton

The fact remains that in a world of global sport, there is only one truly global game…….and here in America it is considered a minor sport (despite the USA qualifying for the World Cup – a competition played between nations, not franchises). The MLS has its fan base and is slowly achieving some recognition but

  • It languishes behind the big four – Football, Baseball, Basketball, Ice Hockey
  • It has few recognized “World Stars” – David Beckham aside, and he would rather be playing in Milan
  • It doesn’t command audiences like other US sports
  • There is always the possibility of a game ending goal-less…..and it doesn’t have overtime.
  • It’s not the EPL, La Liga or Serie A – recognized world soccer leagues

Without wanting to rain on the NFL parade(and we all know how great London weather can be), the game at Wembley on Sunday will be nothing more than an interesting diversion for the British sporting media. It may receive some coverage but it comes up against indifference on a truly global scale. Which is a shame, but the question remains……who really benefits from taking the NFL “global”?

Especially when on Sunday the English Premier League can offer the sporting couch potato the intensity of Manchester United vs Liverpool and West Ham vs Arsenal.

Who knows, Tom Brady may have the time to watch live soccer before he takes to the field!




One response

1 11 2009
tony b

I was at the game at Wembley – not much of a contest but a very enjoyable spectacle nonetheless. I am not sure where all the people came from, but judging by the replica clothes only a minority were actual fans of the two clubs. The people sitting on my left were Russians, the large man on my right who should have paid for two seats was from the English Midlands, and the people behind me were German! The crowd was polyglot and eclecltic, with one thing in common-they all had a good time. Only two minor complaints from me, the food on sale in the stadium was bland and expensive-no change there then, and the sound was not good, important when you want to hear the explanations from the announcer. I will however definitely go back next season!

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