More than a Spectacle.
As I have spoken about previously, American Football is currently one of the fastest growing sports in the UK. Millions of fans tune in every Sunday to watch a team they have developed a personal connection with, compete between 6pm and 4am. These fans are generally knowledgeable and can have an in depth discussion about a sport that requires them to actively search for information about their favourite teams that is hidden under endless articles about the Premier League. They huddle around beacons of information like the many UK NFL blogs (much like the one I write for) and provide detailed feedback and opinions on situations, plays, teams and performances and yet it feels that to some people across the pond they are still considered a joke and a sideshow.
So I thought I would spend a little time dispelling a few misconceptions and hopefully enlightening a few people as to why expansion is a good thing and will eventually be the only way the sport can grow.
I think before I start I should provide my view on having a full time Franchise in the UK. Whilst in a dream world I love the idea, it does seem to be heaped in logistical nightmares and convincing College players to move that far away, not to mention traded players who will have kids in school makes it seem improbable. Not to mention the difficulty of away games and problematic tax laws. All of this makes me think the International Series is the way to go and working on expanding this seems to be the easiest way to get competitive NFL games to the UK and I can tell you now that every single one would sell out. Why? Well let’s use that to start talking about misconceptions of the UK NFL fans.
People are only interested in the ‘spectacle’ of something different
Whilst it is a sport that is predominantly played by Americans and watched by Americans, I think there is a little more to the average International Series ticket holder than people think. At its most basic, it’s simply because not many people in the UK could spend £100 on a ticket simply to see something they have limited interest in. But when you look deeper you realize that the 90k people in Wembley for every sold out International Series game, is a minute chunk of a large knowledgeable fan base, who just want to see any example of the sport they love be played out in front of them. Fans of every team in every jersey who not only want to watch the sport, but want to be there to say thank you to the NFL for giving them the chance to witness something they would otherwise have to spend a fortune doing. If that doesn’t convince you, think about this. Every year the NFL UK host the Super bash, which is a chance for NFL fans to get together to watch the Super bowl. Interest in this is so high they have to raffle off the tickets as they can only fit a small proportion of the fans applying for tickets in the venue. This isn’t a one off for the Super bowl. Anytime there is a player interview, fan rally, fan forum, it sells out. I think that is a little too dedicated for a fan base that would only be interested in the “spectacle”.
UK Fans only cheer the Punting and Kicking
It’s not so much just the title here but more the misconceptions of what the average UK fan cheers at. Now I’m not saying as a fan base that we haven’t developed some interesting traits (hello Mexican wave I’m looking in your direction) and generally with a variety of fans there tends to be a lot of confused cheers and boos, but cheer we do. UK fans will cheer pretty much any exciting play and yes if I see a punter do his job particularly well, I will cheer him, but I would generally be cheering more if Devin Hester was on the other end of it. Something I have noticed about the UK fans is that we are getting better at knowing when to stay quiet for the home team and when to make as much noise as we can, which was pretty evident in the Steelers @ Vikings game. Finally I can’t speak for other fans, but the reason I put my focus into the NFL is because I lost interest in the Premier League. Regardless of this I don’t just cheer the plays that mirror the National sport.
But it’s not just misconceptions; there are a lot of people doing a lot of talking about the prospect of moving a team here. Before reading on remember my views on it, whatever they are, they are just my opinions and I will respect anyone else’s opinion on the matter. But here are some reasons I just can’t get behind.
It is an American Sport
Yes it is, there are 3 games to celebrate Thanksgiving and it is played almost entirely in America. But just because it is an American Sport, doesn’t mean it is just Americans who show interest in it. We live in a world where we can watch pretty much anything we want, just by typing it into a search engine. It has never been this easy to watch American Football across the globe and it is a huge market and opportunity. I know from personal experience that I pay £200 a year to watch NFL whenever I feel like it and I would imagine I’m not alone. But it’s not just the games. We can read up on everything that every sports Journalist has said, download podcasts from the US, play Madden with Americans (even winning sometimes) and play Fantasy football with friends in the UK and US using American systems and information we have discovered from everything I have previously mentioned. The point is I have access to everything a fan of the NFL in America would with the exception of the actual games. Thinking of a sport belonging to a specific country is outdated and people with the above view need to realise the world has got a lot smaller.
You wouldn’t want a Premier League team in America
Me personally. Couldn’t care less, move them all over as far as I’m concerned, but to Football fans I do understand that they wouldn’t want to see a UK football team in the US. But that is Football. The most popular sport in the world. Why would you need an EPL team in the US when there is a competitive league in the form of the MLS? Ok so it doesn’t draw necessarily the top players, but that’s thanks to a lack of interest in the sport. With the NFL there is definite interest in the sport in this country and we simply don’t have access to anything close to that level , but we do have loyal fans who would sell out every game. Something that can’t be said for every game in the US. The point being, no we wouldn’t want to see an EPL team in America, but there are plenty of opportunities to watch competitive football in the US, we have next to no opportunities to watch competitive professional American Football in this country and we have the fan base to fill the stadiums.
So next time someone from the states questions the state of the game in this country remember we have every right to follow a team in whichever way we like.
One final point. The Falcons vs Lions game will be held at 1:30pm at Wembley Stadium, which means it will be on at 9:30 in America, which has a lot of fans up in arms. To those fans I say, ask any UK NFL fans when they generally watch their games. I promise it is no fun watching your team lose at 2am.