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NFL’s UK Affair Shows No Sign Of Abating

Hyped by on November 23, 2014

Last month, as part of their continuing quest to evangelise the UK, the NFL announced further International Series matches to be played at Wembley Stadium in 2015.

The NFL first played a regular season game in London back in 2007, when over 80,000 people witnessed the New York Giants defeat the Miami Dolphins 13-10. But soccer rules the UK—particularly the English Premier League.

Just a year later, talk first surfaced about the EPL taking one of their regular season fixtures abroad, in what would become known as the “39th game” idea. Debate still rages. Fans are opposed and soccer’s governing body, FIFA, has objected to the idea, but the EPL Chief Executive Peter Scudamore is convinced that it will happen one day.

Soccer is played on a global basis, though, and the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool FC, have huge numbers of fans across the world already—almost preaching to the converted. Football decided that it wanted to break from its confines long before then but it has been a difficult journey for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

"Our game isn't played on a global basis, like basketball or soccer is - we have to do it differently," Goodell admitted to the BBC last year. "We are trying to globalise our game, but we're not trying to tackle the whole world at once. We want to create a success in London first, and then we'll look at taking games to Frankfurt, Paris, Moscow, Sydney and so on. That would be a nice problem to have."

Goodell’s story has its roots way back in 1991 with the World League of American Football. The ill-fated spring league featured North American and European teams. It acted as a proving ground for younger players and included, perhaps most importantly, a well-supported London franchise called the Monarchs.

The league disbanded after three years, attempted a European only comeback and then rebranded as NFL Europe in 1998. The plug was finally pulled on NFL Europe at a point when it was losing over $30m per season.

Roger Goodell was the man who closed the league down as he recognised that selling a second-rate product was not going to showcase the best of the NFL outside of the United States. True, you can enjoy NFL here, but Goodell also realised that there was still a hunger for the sport outside the US. All he had to do was sell his idea of playing a game abroad to the teams—and the fans.

"Initially, it was difficult to get teams to do it," he explained to the BBC last year. "There were risks involved. One, you were taking away a home game, which the fans didn't like. And two, the coaches would worry about the possible disruption.”

There may have been initial resistance but the series has been so successful that next year sees three more games taking place. For the first time, these will include matches played on back-to-back weekends. A true NFL takeover of London.

The MIAMI DOLPHINS will host the NEW YORK JETS in Week 4 on Sunday, October 4, the JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS will host the BUFFALO BILLS in Week 7 on Sunday, October 25, and the KANSAS CITY CHIEFS will host the DETROIT LIONS in Week 8 on Sunday, November 1.

Eventually, most parties seem to have agreed that the International Series is a good thing, breathing new life into a resurgent sport.

“We are very appreciative of the outstanding support from our fans in the UK, not only for the games at Wembley, but for all of the related NFL events we have hosted throughout the city,” said NFL Executive Vice President of International Mark Waller.

Time differences mean that there is the novelty of watching a game over breakfast and BritViewNFL rounded up a few of the comments from top commentators.

Michael David Smith, of Pro Football Talk was glowing in his review of early morning football. “I loved watching football first thing in the morning on Sunday. I hope this becomes a regular thing. The NFL’s decision to kick off Sunday’s game in London at 1.30pm – which is 9.30am ET – was brilliant.”

Tony Kornheiser of ESPN agreed, “The early kick-off idea is absolutely brilliant. They have given people the following option: Would you rather watch a live football game that you have undoubtedly bet on or have fantasy people involved in, or would you rather watch pre-game shows?”

Not everyone is happy, though. Sportsnet New York’s Adam Schein complained, “A 9.30am start just to placate London and make it all about money, I don’t like the whole thing. I hate it and despise the fact that it’s realistic that a team is going to be in London.”

That last point is probably where all of this is heading, of course, as Michael David Smith wrapped up, “Some American fans don’t like the NFL’s overseas experiment but we’re just going to have to get used to hearing both ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and ‘God Save the Queen’ before games. That ship has sailed, and it’s docked permanently on the other side of the Atlantic.”




  • Category: NFL