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A Transatlantic Super Bowl

As an American who loves – absolutely loves – sport, the Super Bowl is one of the most exciting days in the calendar.

Normal order of service is getting together with friends at home, eating copious amounts of unhealthy food, and sharing in the excitement of the Big Game on TV. Being outside the United States, in London, for the first time on Super Bowl Sunday this year, I didn’t know what to expect. Would it be any different across the pond?

The viewing arena of choice for me this year was a pub in west London, which I had learnt broadcasts the game, with some American friends. When we walked in, to my surprise, almost everyone was sporting some sort of American football gear, mostly either Seahawks or Patriots jerseys.

My friends and I began discussing the game and before we knew it, we had attracted a number of Americans who were there to watch the game into our circle, all of us arguing about who would win. Pretty surreal, being a group of ex-pats in a small London pub 5,000-miles away from Phoenix, Arizona, where the game was being played.

There’s a significant pocket of Brits who love themselves some American football

Of course, there were British fans too, mostly guys in their mid-20s to late-30s. No, American football wasn’t their favourite sport, but they did follow it and have a genuine interest in it. One, for instance, mentioned he was looking forward to the New York Jets coming to Wembley Stadium in October, while another, sporting Tom Brady (pictured)’s number 12 jersey, told me football – soccer – was always going to be his top sport, but American football was good too. He plans to get tickets for the Jets-Dolphins game in London soon.

As the game progressed, I was impressed at the legitimate interest the Brits congregated in the pub had in the game. It made me think: could the NFL (National Football League), which seems adamant on bringing a franchise to London, really succeed in the UK?

Of course, there are a number of factors to consider, logistics being the main one. Eight games overseas – the number of home games per team, per season – would be extremely tough, on both players and fans, especially those whose teams play on the west coast.

For the San Francisco 49ers, for example, one London game is roughly a 22-hour around trip in the air. Is it competitively fair to force a travelling team to play a well-rested team just days later back in the States?

Another potential problem is attendance. Though all three London games in 2014 sold out – and there are only a few thousand tickets left for the three games this coming season at Wembley – I’m not so confident on how well eight games a year would manage. Could the NFL compete with the high number of teams playing in the ultra-popular Premier League in and around the London area, particularly were games to be played at Wembley, which has a capacity of 90,000?

In my opinion, before the NFL makes its London decision one way or another, there are tactics it could employ to broaden its presence in the UK. More can be done, for instance, with scheduling, so that live games are played at more convenient times – after all, the Super Bowl kicked off this year in London at 11.30pm.

Despite the obstacles, the NFL is growing and is still on a steady upward curve in the UK since a first regular season game was played in London in 2007. Though I still don’t know what exactly to expect for the future of the NFL in the region, there is one thing I do know from my experience – there’s a significant pocket of Brits who love themselves some American football.

Matthew Hochberg (Reporter, SportBusiness International)

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