Hey guys, my name’s Stu, I’m a Brit, a recent convert to NFL (2 years) and loving supporting the Broncos. I’ve been reading MHR on a daily basis over the last year and a bit. Thanks to all the contributors for their write ups which have really helped me get a greater understanding of the sport, and given me a greater knowledge of the Broncos. Last season was amazing, even though the play-off defeat was devastating, but I’m still unbelievably high on the Broncos and their chances of success next season.
What I’ve decided to share on my first post is a bit of a background to NFL in the UK. I’m no expert, but having been watching for a little over a year I think I can give the view of a newbie to the game. I’ll apologise in advance, this isn’t specifically Broncos related, but hopefully it will be of some interest.
First some background. We like our sport in Britain, and the three most popular sports are Football/Soccer, Rugby Union and Cricket. Football is by far the most watched sport (I also love football and am an Aston Villa season ticket holder for my sins). Football has expanded heavily since the early nineties, and has capitalised commercially so it is easily the richest game in the country. Rugby Union has a big following in the main tournaments, such as the 6 nations and the Rugby World Cup, and the Cricket Ashes are very popular but unlike football the international game is far more popular than the club/county game.
In football the wealth migrates to the top teams, and teams lower down the leagues are often in financial trouble, a fair few have gone into administration in recent years. The financial gulf between teams is not as bad as in Spain, but the wealth is definitely in the hands of the biggest clubs. Currently wealth comes predominantly from TV money, although a big stadium and merchandising also helps. The other source of wealth is ridiculously rich owners, although a new initiative of ‘financial fair play’ is aiming to limit this (I’m not convinced the governing bodies will enforce it though). The wealthiest clubs are the teams who finish in the top 4 of the league season after season, therefore qualifying for the lucrative European Champions League. This feels like a big difference from the NFL, where the distribution of wealth seems more even, but please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Unlike football, club/county teams for Rugby and Cricket are generally cash poor.
American Football appears to have had a small, but loyal fanbase in Britain for a while, but this is growing more rapidly in recent years. The fans generally have a good knowledge of the game, but new converts can find the knowledge fans possess a bit overwhelming (particularly with the unfamiliar terminology used) and might not want to ask too many questions for fear of looking stupid. However get past this and the fans seem to be very welcoming to new converts to the sport, and they take every opportunity to encourage others to watch.
I think the rise in interest in recent years is due to a number of things. Firstly the dedicated marketing arm in the UK ‘NFL UK’ is in charge of marketing the sport in the country and does a fairly good job. It is much more focussed than many sports in this country and gaining and maintaining viewers for the sport is obviously a key aim. The role of one body to promote the sport in the country, rather than each club promoting individually is important, as it gives people a recognised place to go when new to the sport. The aim is clearly to promote the NFL as a whole, whereas in football I get the impression each team does its own promotion abroad, and teams like Manchester United have little interest in promoting the league as a whole, just Manchester United.
Secondly, the regular season games in London have helped to grow the game. Initially pre-season/exhibition games were played in London, and were well attended, but having games that matter played here has given a new level of credibility, and I think Brits like the fact that London has been chosen as the sole location of the international series. And it isn’t just Londoners who attend, Brits from all over the country travel for the game, getting there early to soak up the atmosphere at the NFL UK organised ‘tailgate’. It’s a great day out, almost feeling like a cup final. This is very different from the way we attend football games in the UK, where there are a couple burger vans outside the ground, but very little to encourage the fan to get there early, and fans often drink in nearby pubs up until 15 minutes before kick-off.
There are also supporters from every NFL team in attendance at the International Series game and such a variety of jerseys on display; the only team we didn’t see this year was the Chiefs (make of that what you will). The expansion to two games in London next year will be interesting, both games have now sold out, so it looks like there is still plenty of potential to further expand in the UK. There has also been talk, although not seriously, of the possibility of a London franchise in the future. I’m not sure how this could work, but I’d be interested to know people’s views on this. (I may do a post on this in the future.)
Finally, the coverage on TV in Britain is excellent. At the moment we get 5 games a week on TV during the regular season, plus every post season game, and live highlights through RedZone and other NFL programming. Sky Sports (a subscription channel) has most of the games, with 3 of the 5 weekly games (Sundays and Thursdays) plus Redzone. A lot of sports fans subscribe to Sky Sports for the football anyway (which Sky Sports holds the monopoly over) so it's a bonus we don't have to pay for a separate channel to get the NFL. The other 2 games are available on free TV, and although at unsociable hours in the UK, having these free to watch games is a big bonus for us Brits. Interestingly the TV deal for NFL was announced in the days running up the first game of the season, and fans were worried they may miss some of their beloved NFL whilst they sorted it out. It all worked out in the end though. There is also the online Game pass (not sure if this is the same as in the USA), which shows every game not on Sky Sports, but I don’t have this so can’t really comment on how good it is.
The advantage this high level of TV coverage has is we feel up to date with what’s going on, even though it isn’t in our country, and this keeps people interested. The presenters are also very good, and it has taken the lead on audience interaction in televised sport with tweets and e-mails being read out on the show. The content of the discussions is inclusive of all the teams and games going on, not just the one being shown. The scheduling last season was particularly pleasing for me as I saw a good percentage of Broncos games.
Well I hope this has been of some interest, if nothing else it means I’ve made my first post, so I won’t feel as much pressure now!