This year is special for the NFL. Celebrating 100 years, there is much to look back on and discuss. However, NFL 100 is also an opportunity to look ahead and see what’s in store for one of the world’s biggest sports organizations.
As London gears up to host four NFL regular-season games over the coming weeks, Henry Hodgson, NFL’s vice president of International Marketing & Fan Development said of the centenary year: “We’re celebrating the 100th year of the NFL this year. Over the next 100 years, the international side will be playing a huge part in the development of the game.”
Although the New England Patriots are not featuring in the UK this year, English NFL fans get treated to the Oakland Raiders taking on the Chicago Bears on October 6th and then a week later the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Carolina Panthers at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday 13th. The Los Angeles Rams will then take on the Cincinnati Bengals at Wembley Stadium on Sunday 27th October with the final game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans to be played at Wembley Stadium on Sunday 3rd November.
With the season just a few weeks old, viewership of NFL games on television and digital is already up 4 percent from last year. Last season’s 5 percent increase reversed a two-year trend of declining NFL viewership, including a 9.7 percent decline in a controversial 2017. So, are the London games really needed? The answer is yes and here are three reasons why:
The Demand is There
The games in London are popular. Very popular in fact. Tickets last year were sold in two days, a full nine months in advance. According to the NFL, only 3% of those attending the London games are Americans or American expatriates, while 22% are from London and 60% from elsewhere in Britain. The games are being broadcast live on TV and Radio, with none other than the BBC showing the highlights. Clearly there is a market for NFL in London and the UK. Nobody is expecting America’s most popular sport to replace the UK’s most popular sport, but having built a fan base of upwards of 23 million in Mexico since the first ever regular season game outside the US was played in Mexico in 2005, the NFL can see what happens with gradual development and investment in foreign fields.
2. Follow the Money
As well as the ticket sales and broadcast revenue generated from the London games, the betting made on the games should boost the appeal of the NFL in London. Put simply, the UK loves to bet. According to the UK gambling commission, a staggering £14.5 billon ($17.5 billion) was gambled last year. Football betting is huge, especially via an app or via mobile phones. If the NFL games can generate significant income with the bet football with an app in the UK market, then there will be more demand from broadcasters and betting companies to help fund future NFL games and projects in the future. Whilst the US wrestles with its own sports betting legislations and whether or not betting on football with an app is legal or not, sports betting is huge in the UK and can help generate further interest in the sport and more revenues for the NFL.
3. Better Understanding, Better Players
One of the biggest challenges the NFL faces is getting people over the barrier of understanding of American football. Just about everyone in the world knows of American football and knows there’s a Super Bowl, but people generally don’t understand the rules. While social media is helping overcome that barrier, live televised games will help enormously. The result? Better players in the NFL. There are currently players from the UK, Brazil, France, Australia, and Germany all employed by NFL franchises. High-profile sportsmen Valentine Holmes and Christian Wade walked away from rugby to join the NFL and more will follow. The International Player Pathway (IPP) is a program run by the National Football League to increase the number of non-American players in the NFL. Since it began in 2017, the IPP program has grown significantly each year. As of 2019, almost half (15 of 32) of all NFL teams have signed international players as a direct result of the program. Playing games like those in London will only help the understanding and appeal of the game and ultimately increase the number of non-Americans trying to follow their dream in the NFL.
Playing football in London is a win-win for the NFL and can used as a model for expansion into other sports-mad countries like Brazil and Germany where interest is already growing and further love and revenue awaits the NFL.