Why American Football is rising on popularity in the UK
Author: Alex Dudley
American Football, but more precisely the NFL is growing more and more with every passing year within the United Kingdom.
Millions of people stay awake through the night for the showpiece event – the Super Bowl, while it is also becoming a popular occasion to head out to the nearest bar to catch the game.
Obviously, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to most since it is extremely rare for the British audience not to take emotions to a sport; but no other has managed to be met quite the growth in popularity like American Football.
The international series, which began in 2007, was when the NFL first learnt of the popularity that the sport has in the UK. The 2017 season saw two games played at Wembley and Twickenham and were both attended by over 80,000 fans and watched on free-to-air television by a further 23 million people.
It was recently revealed that for just the second time the UK would host four regular season games; this time in two different stadiums. Wembley would once again play host to two fixtures; including the Jacksonville Jaguars for the seventh consecutive year, while the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium would also host two games.
The links between the UK and American Football go back further than most believe, with the first competitive game taking place in 1910 between the USS Idaho and USS Vermont. Meanwhile there were also several matches that took place between 1941 and 1945 due to the American soldiers that were positioned in England for the Second World War.
However, the first signs of the NFL market becoming more popular weren’t until 1985 when Channel 4 had exclusive rights to show the highlights of the 1985-86 season; with the Super Bowl in that particular season watched by four million people. The interest in the sport saw the first UK league established and by 1986 there were over 102 teams. The London Monarchs won the first World Bowl in 1991.
The London based side began to increase the popularity of the sport and was helped by playing at Wembley Stadium. They drew in crowds of over 40,000 for every home game. However, the growing interest in the Premier League stunted the growth of the sport, and interest began to sway to the newly established topflight of football.
The success of the English league continued to dwindle over the coming years, with the Monarchs re-housed at White Hart Lane, and subsequently, their attendances dropped to below 15,000. They re-branded the team to be called the England Monarchs and decided to tour the country to drum up interest in the sport. However, this backfired spectacularly with audiences of fewer than 6,000 attending games, which ultimately led to the team disbanding.
While the domestic leagues have certainly faded away; the success of the International Series has shown that the interest in American Football has undoubtedly remained. The failure of the UK League could have been down to a few aspects; the primary being the quality on show and the unfortunate timing since the Premier League had just begun. However, the number of people that flock to London to watch the American sides has shown that the future is bright.
The first NFL game to take place in London between two teams, that are not properly NFL Superbowl favourites, the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants, sold out in just 90 minutes. Every game since then has also been a sell-out.
The next step for the NFL regarding American Football in the UK would be to set up a London team within the next four years. There have been rumours that it is more likely that there will be an American team housed in the United Kingdom rather than building a new team from scratch.
Shahid Khan’s Jacksonville Jaguars appear to be the side that could benefit most from playing their games in the UK, and with Khan’s connections to London-based football club Fulham, it would be one that would make the most sense.