There will be at least three more NFL International Series games at Wembley in 2016.
In an exclusive interview with 5thDownUK, NFL UK managing director, Alistair Kirkwood spoke candidly about moving the sport into its next phase of development in this country.
He also revealed that the NFL had input into Tottenham Hotspurs’ new stadium design and said that he hopes to see children’s football leagues set up across London and beyond.
“We won’t know until September what the likely plans are for 2016”, said Kirkwood when asked for the latest on next year’s games. “Teams only get eight home games a season, so it’s difficult to encourage them to give one of those up. There’s a lot for them to consider; most importantly their fans.”
Alistair Kirkwood attended the International Series Media Day which included the Play 60 flag football event where six London schools were competing in their Summer Bowl. It was the culmination of an intitiative to introduce the sport to youngsters this side of the Atlantic.
“We don’t know if there will be four games next year”, revealed Kirkwood, “we’re certainly not going to go backwards though.” He wouldn’t confirm the rumours coming out of Jacksonville that the Jaguars are about to announce a new four year deal with the NFL which will see the franchise play further games annually in London from 2017, “I’ve seen that story too, but it’s news to me. I see it as a positive though, because that means we’re guaranteed a home team each year.”
“The Jags have been brilliant in pushing us into the community to develop the game more with more grassroots focus, so if they do want to come on board more that would be great.”
Jacksonville’s new Safety, Sergio Brown, was one of six players over here coaching London children at the Summer Bowl. A player from each of this year’s visiting teams had a London school to lead and the competition was as rife between the coaches as it was between the children. “Just ask him how his team did just now”, teased the Detroit Lions running back, Joique Bell, as he broke from media formalities to wind up the Miami Dolphins defensive end, Olivier Vernon.
The players who attended the media day:
Sergio Brown, Jacksonville Jaguars Safety
Cordy Glenn, Buffalo Bills Tackle
Cairo Santos, Kansas City Chiefs Kicker
Joique Bell, Detroit Lions Running Back
Olivier Vernon, Miami Dolphins DE
Nick Mangold, New York Jets Center
Alistair Kirkwood was pleased with the event and enthused about the growth of the game on these shores, “we’re going into the next phase of development. We’ve been well known for our Wembley events, the Regent Street events and such like. The sport’s grown on TV and our fan base is growing. Now we want to grow our roots and offer an alternative to indigenous sports.”
The children were fully engaged in the activities the NFL put on. As well as the touch football games, they took had coaching sessions and even a 20 yard dash. “As a pilot programme we’ve partnered six London schools,” said Mr Kirkwood as he described the events that were taking place. “They have partnered with the six teams that are coming coming over this autumn. They’ve Skype-called the head coaches and players. They’ve also partnered with a sister school over in the States that’s within the locality of the team they’re representing. The chief nutritionist from one of the teams has also come over to give advice.”
This latest phase of work for NFL UK is to develop the sport over here and to get more children playing it, though Alistair Kirkwood pointed out that it isn’t all about keeping children fit, ” this isn’t just a physical activity, it’s also about helping the children mentally.” The NFL offers underprivileged youngsters in the States a way out of poverty. The sport gives them a sense of belonging, values and a college education.
The NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, fully endorses what they’re trying to do over here, “he wants us to stand for more than just putting on games,” Kirkwood confirmed. “We have an aspiration to develop pop warner football across the UK. There’s a huge population, but we plan to spread it across London and if we can do well there then we hope we can open arms elsewhere in the country.”
It was also confirmed that the NFL had an input in the design of Tottenham’s new stadium. The changing rooms will be larger than your average Premier League team’s to accommodate the huge squads that American Football clubs have. The NFL logo will be branded around the stadium as proudly as Spurs’ cockerel.
From 2018 we will have at least two regular season games played at that new stadium. There could be more played there and there is the option of further games at Wembley.
As the game is offered to more schools across the country and with the promise of fixtures for the next twelve years, rest assured that this looks like a sport that’s here to stay.