Home > Uncategorized > The NFL in London: Eye Opener

The NFL in London: Eye Opener


I grew up with the NFL. So obsessed with the league was I as a kid, that I had wallpaper with the then 28 NFL helmets and cried in my third grade class the day the 1982 players strike began.

But, today I could not even name half the coaches or starting QBs in the NFL. The same goes for my ignorance of Major League Baseball and the NBA. My sporting life is dominated by World Football (what many Americans call Soccer) and College sports. College athletics contains the fan passion, traveling supporters and ruckus crowds that make World Football so appealing. From my vantage point, American Professional sports are sanitized games for the elite in society, much like Cricket is in the UK, and where the Premier League may be heading. This personally, does not appeal to me.

I happened to be in London this weekend, not because the NFL was in town (in fact I did not know the NFL was in town until arriving) but to cover the other football, and more specifically the Premier League for EPL Talk.com.

What struck me about the coverage of the NFL at Wembley was that the British press treated it, the way the American press treats the sport called Soccer in North America. Ignoring the large numbers of fans who are interested in the NFL, mostly from outside London (something I will touch upon shortly), the sports pages of the Independent and Guardian, my two preferred British papers (because I am a liberal and those are the two papers I read.) reduced the NFL game to a small pre game story on Sunday and a photo spread towards the back of the sports section on Monday.

Much like the way US qualifiers that get more viewers than mainstream American sports are handled in the local press stateside, the British press seemed to want to relegate what was perceived a foreign invasion to the back pages. Since much of my perspective on the relative popularity of sports comes from reading the foreign papers, and seeing what is on TV when I travel (The EPL, La Liga and NBA are far and away the biggest worldwide sporting leagues from what I have gathered,) I simply assumed every NFL fan attending the Wembley game would be from the states.

While a large number of fans of both the New England Patriots (for whom London is as close as San Diego) and the Tampa Bay Bucs did travel to London for the game, what I found on the Bakerloo Line of the Underground, and around Westminster on Sunday night was a large number of fans from the Midlands and the Northwest who came to Wembley to watch the NFL in person and wore the jersey’s of their favorite NFL team.

This was stunning to me. After all, on the night of the Liverpool-Manchester United game, I figured people from outside London, particularly from traditional Lancashire would have been singly obsessed with that match. While that match certainly featured prominently in people’s thoughts and expressions, the NFL was also ever present.

Given that the NFL fans were largely from outside of London, the age old prejudices of the Fleet Street based press were in full force in how they covered the match. To many, this event didn’t take place, and when confronted with a sold out crowd, the simple response was that it was simply American tourists and ameri-philes. (Much like I am told by many locally, when I cite evidence of sold out Soccer matches in Dallas or San Francisco that it is just foreigners or anglophiles attending.)

Keep in mind even in Football terms, London is a relative backwater. The press won’t admit this but it is. The sport was invented in Scotland and the rules were codified in Sheffield. The early years of the football league were dominated by Northern clubs, with a London side not winning a title until 1931. Still today, no London club has won the Champions League/European Cup while Liverpool, Manchester United and Nottingham Forest are all multiple time winners.

But the bias of the London press corps was in full force again for me to witness as the NFL came to town. What it reminded me of was the struggle Soccer has stateside to break through with a largely Northeastern elitist based sports writer corp in the US. For many of these writers, Baseball still trumps the NFL even though Baseball is a regional sport whose interest nationally is probably less than that of NASCAR, College Football, the NBA, and yes the World Cup when it rolls around. (The TV ratings to prove more people watched the 2006 World Cup in the US than each of the last five World Series, and the World Cup final in 2006 had more viewers than any World Series game since 2005 .)

I still don’t particularly care for the NFL, but must admit the experience in London has given me a new respect for the league’s efforts to reach out internationally. No question in mind exists today that the NFL has a presence in the British Isles, and is likely to continue to grow there, just as World Football continues to grow in the USA.

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  1. Paul
    October 29, 2009 at 11:04 am

    What region would you say dominates baseball?

  2. October 29, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Very interesting. I think it’s always fascinating to hear about the NFL and NBA’s planned expansions to Europe.

  3. Ace
    October 29, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Very interesting the reaction in London. Just like Soccer here! The masses will eventually overcome the press.

  4. jmb321
    October 29, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    Great observations Kartik. I lived and worked in the UK in the mid-80’s. Even back then before any concerted effort by the NFL, there was a growing segment albeit still a niche of American football fans. I remember the 15 year old daughter of one of my English colleagues no.1 Xmas wish list for which I was to play Santa, was a Raiders jersey. She would never have thought of wearing a homegrown football jersey.

  5. Dave Trotter
    October 29, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    I think baseball would dominate in the the Northeast (Red Sox, Yankees, Mets and Philly), California (somewhat) and the city of Chicago (more the north side than the south side). Besides that, you don’t see cities that have a large baseball following anymore. Like people in the US that say soccer is ‘boring’, I think many people don’t follow baseball anymore because they don’t want to watch a 162 games in a year. That is just way too many!

    I was watching Sky Sports’ coverage of the game, and it seemed like many of the non-US fans were from Switzerland and Germany. That would explain why the German-speaking teams did a lot better in the World League than, lets say, the London Monarchs.

    I find that whenever Brits follow American football, they basically pick the team that is #1 in the States. Therefore, it isn’t unlike American EPL fan’s blind support for the big four. That is why you see teams like Chicago in the 80s, as well and the Pats and Giants more recently, going to London. You will never see a Seattle vs. Kansas City (which use to be a big rivaly back when Seattle was in the AFC) played at Wimbley.

    And, Kartik, thank god you didn’t bring your Miami jersey to wear during that weekend. I don’t think that would go over well at a TB-NE game!

  6. pete20
    October 29, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    The game sold out? Isn’t Wembley 90k+? Somehow I find it difficult to believe, but Kartik was there so it has value to me. Could sold out be used loosely for like selling 80% of capacity or only opening up certain amounts, ala Seattle with the lovely Sounders.

  7. Dave Trotter
    October 30, 2009 at 10:09 am

    The official attendance for the game was 84,254, according to the NFL.

  8. Thlayli
    October 31, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    The fans from England’s northwest grew up with American football’s first cousin, rugby league.

    (BTW, the Yankees’ return to the World Series has caused a bump in the TV ratings.)

  9. Rebeccajill
    November 9, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    I was at this game, and it was really exciting. I’m now just getting caught up on all my blog reading after having been in England for this game and travel, and so I’m just now seeing this post.

    My parents have been Tampa Bay Buccaneers season ticket holders since 1976 and have never been to an away game until now. It was my 3rd time to England, and their first. The crowd was 84,254 people, and since some of the seats were covered with Buccaneers logos on either side of the field, I’m going to guess that of the seats available to actually sit in, it was a sell out.

    Though like Kartik said, there were people with both Buccaneers and Patriots jerseys on, every NFL team was well represented. As I’ve told friends, it was as if the NFL threw up in Wembley Stadium. The four guys sitting across from me on the tube on the way to the game were all together, but all four were all wearing different team jerseys — one guy in full Dolphins regalia, so he, Kartik and anyone else would have been fine in any Dolphins gear or any other teams’ gear. That’s actually what made the game fun.

    Talking with some of the British people, they all love different teams, but they were so excited to have any NFL game in London they could attend, they didn’t care who the teams were, etc. They were just excited to be there.

    And what’s funny, the best Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan website bucpower.com is done by the Bucs UK Fan Club. It’s stellar, and so I know they were all excited to actually have the Bucs play in London.

    I enjoyed it, though I will admit I was sad that I had to be on the way to the NFL game to miss seeing the Arsenal/West Ham game live on television in the home country. Talking with more British on the train on the train back to my cousin’s house in Guildford, they share both a love for the NFL and EPL like I do, so they both can co-exist (it was also good, since one of the guys is an Arsenal fan, and was glad I was a fan).

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