Well before the NFL started hosting yearly regular-season video games in London, before discussion of an NFL franchise of England spun out of a pipe dream to a clear possibility, and prior to this ironic game Americans call football discovered a fifty % growth for UK collegiate participation since the NFL started playing right here each year, American football was a simple novelty across the pond. It absolutely was a game Brits noticed as a gentler variation of rugby. All things considered, these “football” players needed to be shielded with pads as well as helmets.
As Gary Marshall prepares to go to Wembley Stadium for the annual NFL UK game there with this weekend’s matchup in between the Chicago Bears together with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he recalls those times well. Marshall recalls strolling by way of a shopping arcade in the hometown of his of Newcastle in the 1980s and also watching an enormous crowd outside a department store. Marshall waded with the front side and also was fascinated with what he noticed on the TV: Miami Dolphins vs. Cincinnati Bengals, a sport he would never before seen, blending the physical and also the cerebral in what looked like a real life chess game.
Before, America’s hottest sport had just just lately been making inroads in England, with the first adopters using motorcycle helmets as well as welding on facemasks to enjoy the game. The day, Marshall viewed a rookie called Dan Marino toss 3 touchdowns. Next he went to purchase a magazine on American football. And then he was hooked.
This saturday, Marshall – currently the chairman of the sport’s national governing body, the British American Football Association, plus a loyal Dolphins blower – is an unique visitor of the NFL for the 5th regular-season game in as several years in the biggest stadium in Europe. He will be fresh off a visit to Parliament to release a team encouraging American football. There’ll be an NFL rally in Trafalgar Square, a talent search for young British pro athletes that would like to enjoy for A forum as well as american colleges where fans are able to doubt NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Every one of that makes a football fan in the U.S. scratch the head of his: Why this particular bloody commotion in a nation which can rarely see a touchdown from a very first down?
“We’re nonetheless some sport,” Marshall said, “but it is a thing we are attempting to develop. And also the enthusiasm of football fans with these – we are many diehards.”
So what is the end game of this particular annual NFL goodwill trip to London? So is this indicative of a bigger changing of the sands for American football, a sport which enthralls the Lower forty eight but nowhere else? So is this a ploy to develop the sport offshore, as the NBA has achieved to amazing success? Or perhaps for the NFL, could this be something larger, with NFL owners’ current unanimous vote to extend Wembley video games through 2016, merely one more step in a method which might eventually end with a franchise in England?
In a word: yes.
“It’s a step wise strategy,” stated John York, co owner of the San Francisco 49ers and Chairman of the NFL’s International Committee. “The video games are already well received when we have had a single game a year. … We will determine if they carry on and climb with 2 games, and also attempting to obtain a group or even higher than a group to devote to coming over to London on a routine schedule. We will see when we are able to get a little fan affinity for one team.”
“And when things consistently grow,” York continued, “there is plainly a possibility of working with a franchise in London.”
The obstacles are numerous. For starters, there is the overseas travel. (York points out West Coast teams usually lead the league in traveling anyway, along with excursions from West Coast to East Coast aren’t any different than trips from East Coast to England.) Then there was the ill fated trials together with the World League of American Football of the 1990s and NFL Europa of the 2000s. (Those, obviously, were minor leagues, not the NFL.) After which you will find the NFL’s great overseas achievements which have yet to create a worldwide franchise: the 2005 Cardinals 49ers game in Mexico City which attracted the biggest regular season crowd perhaps, and the Buffalo Bills’ flirtation with Toronto, a continuing five year courting procedure with a single regular season Toronto game a season. Regardless of these North American successes, the gaze of NFL executives is found fixed on the reverse side of the Atlantic.
Even though NFL executives don’t have any illusions American football will supplant soccer in the British sporting heart – or perhaps surpass rugby – they lead people to good signs.
The NFL features a fan base of eleven million in the UK, including two million “avid fans,” a thirty two % increase more than 2 years back. Some eight million Brits watched the Super Bowl last season. Every game at Wembley offers aproximatelly one dolars million in products and also over 80,000 tickets, although this year’s ticket sales have lagged, that NFL professionals blame on the lockout. NFL tv viewership has almost doubled since the Wembley games started in 2007. And British colleges have instituted a national flag football league this year and a female’s tackle league.
It appears to be odd to Americans, the thought of mash and bangers alongside brats and burgers at tailgates, or maybe Budweiser served in pints rather than clear plastic bottles. But remember: The NFL is a company, and companies should develop. It is hard to picture the NFL becoming any even bigger than it currently is in the United States. England may be the logical next frontier.
“London and also the United Kingdom itself are extremely fertile ground for the sport to develop,” said Chris Parsons, the NFL vice president of international. “Having these video games in London is an unbelievably great catalyst to push that development. It is truly bringing the NFL to existence somehow you never ever actually get to find out if you simply watch on TV.”
For Marshall, a schoolteacher, he hopes this weekend’s game aids British youth recognize the sport’s really worth playing.
“Until individuals really notice it, they believe it is rugby with pads on, therefore it should be a much softer game,” Marshall said. “I’ve had both games, along with a great hit is a great hit. And then, it is actually just getting people to check it out. And after they try it, they like it.”