On Saturday night 5thDownUK took part in a live debate of BBC Five Live about the support for American Football in the UK. Channel 4’s expert pundit, Mike Carlson, joined in the discussion as we highlighted the passion of UK fans for America’s game.
There appears to be an opinion that the sport has a cult following on this side of the Atlantic, but stats from recent years prove otherwise. Gone are the days when the only coverage we got was late on a Sunday night on Channel 4, or later Channel 5. Thanks to Sky Sports we now have Thursday night action, two evening games on a Sunday and Redzone. Next season they will give Monday Night Football, having taken the rights from Eurosport. We also get the Sunday night games on C4 and their fantastic highlights show.
Wembley has sold out every game, except one, since the International Series began in 2007. That exception was the Chicago Bears vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers game in 2011, but that was because the game wasn’t announced until August of that year and tickets were late going on sale. It was no fault of NFL UK because the labour dispute in the league dragged on for so long. More than 70,000 fans attended, so it was hardly a disaster.
Outside of the States UK fans are the biggest consumers of the NFL’s podcasts. We’re granted access to the league’s Game Pass and its flagship Total Access show. Last year we were brought the draft live! The British market is constantly being tested and it always proves profitable.
500,000 people have packed Regent Street two years running. That’s no fluke. Tens of thousands of fans filled Trafalgar Square four weeks later. When London hosted the Champions League Final we never saw scenes like the ones NFL fans brought to the capital. It’s because the sport is growing and its fans are passionate.
This weekend The Times had a column dedicated to the wildcard games. The Mail Online has a special section to gridiron and the day after the Lions vs Falcons game in October the photo on the back page of The Metro was not of the Manchester United vs Chelsea game, it was of the Matthew Stafford.
Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, knows a London franchise will be a success and that’s why he wants a team over here. The owners have backed it and the Government have said they’ll do all they can to get us a franchise.
This is no longer a pipedream, it’s going to happen. The NFL’s Play 60 initiative has been introduced to schoolchildren over here when teams have visited. They’re the fans of the future and they’re being educated more than the current so-called cult following ever were. How long until Home Counties schools start forming their own leagues? As interest expands, so too will participants in this great game and then we’ll see the next generation of Menelik Watson and Jack Crawford running out in front of their home fans.
Sky Sports promises to bring us more action next season. It won’t be too long until we see it mainstream across terrestrial networks. Just like a London franchise, it’s going to happen.
You can hear the debate on here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04vkbqm go two hours and twenty minutes in.