How did the NFL become so popular in the UK?
With the expansion of the series of matches being staged across the Atlantic in recent years, it’s clear to see that the popularity of the NFL in the UK has exploded. Since its introduction in 2007, more than 25 games have been held in London.
The first match was contested in 2007 and held at Wembley Stadium, the UK’s national stadium for its major sport, soccer. New York Giants edged a close game against the Miami Dolphins by 13 to 10, with more than 80,000 packed in to witness the spectacle.
The pre-game show was headlined by English rock band The Feeling, which helped to add to the sense of occasion, and musical acts have been a key feature of many of the games held on British shores in the years since then.
Fast forward 12 years to 2019 and the number of matches in a single year had quadrupled, with four games held last year across two stadia. Wembley remains one of those venues, while the home ground of soccer club Tottenham Hotspur hosted two of the games.
Tottenham’s new facility was built with the NFL in mind and features a retractable pitch that makes switching between soccer and football relatively straightforward. Clearly, the club’s ownership understood the value of hosting matches both now and in the future.
But what are the factors behind the UK’s growing fondness for this American pastime? In this article, we will explore that trend.
Feelin' it at Wembley #DUUUVAL
— NFL (@NFL) October 28, 2018
The internet connects fans to sports more quickly than ever before. For decades, fans in the UK could only hope to read about their favorite American teams in the newspapers, or perhaps see a short clip from the Super Bowl transmitted on TV.
When fans were able to access the internet from their home, things quickly changed. The latest scores, reports and photos were available through a few clicks of a mouse and followers all over the world were able to communicate through chat rooms, message boards and email.
The internet has also provided a platform for other means of engagement. For example. UK fans of the NFL are able to bet on the outcome of matches using their favorite online bookmakers, with the vast majority of leading providers now offering markets. At present, the latest NFL odds on bet365 place the Kansas City Chiefs as 4.75 favorites to win the next Super Bowl.
In more modern times, fans have been able to stream matches online through the NFL Network, with no satellite signal required. The social media boom has also helped teams to cultivate followings in the UK like never before.
The rules of the game
Of course, the game itself is hugely appealing to UK sports audiences. Away from the pageantry and excitement of the product, the action on the field is a major draw. The game bears striking similarities to rugby, which has helped to generate interest from casual observers.
Fans in the UK also enjoy the specialized nature of players and their roles. In rugby, all players attack and defend, so the idea of designated offensive and defensive players is an exciting novelty to many casual fans.
#DidYouKnow the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium features a retractable grass surface which hides an NFL pitch underneath – genius! 🏈 #WednesdayWisdom https://t.co/I3flORNOKZ
📸: NFL UK pic.twitter.com/Qi0sblY6CK
— Visit London (@visitlondon) July 17, 2019
It’s clear from recent attendance figures that the NFL is a major hit in the UK. From a single match staged in 2007, British fans can now look forward to a whole series of matches close to home every year – and the potential for the sport across the pond appears limitless.