Sky-high interest in tickets for the NFL’s 2023 International Series games in the UK is a vivid illustration of the success of the league’s cleats-on-the-ground commitment to the market over the past 16 years.
What started out as an annual game with an average attendance of 82,300 at London’s 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium between 2007 and 2012 has expanded considerably over the past decade.
Nowadays, it is a multi-game series featuring contests at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium which, since September, has been the first official ‘home of the NFL in the UK’. Indeed, the full International Series this year actually includes a total of five regular-season games, including one at Wembley Stadium and two in November at Deutsche Bank Park in Frankfurt, Germany, as the league broadens its horizons.
The NFL’s growing international following has justified such expansion plans. When tickets went on sale in June for this year’s two autumn games at 62,850-seat Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, nearly 500,000 fans reportedly queued online in the hope of securing a ticket.
With demand outstripping supply, many UK-based NFL fans missed out through primary sales. However, the process also highlighted the vital role secondary ticketing providers play in maximising accessibility, which has been a crucial factor in the league’s growth in the UK so far.
By the start of September 2023, ticketing resale provider viagogo had registered a 90% increase in sales for the 2023 International Series in comparison with last year’s fixtures, giving thousands of fans the opportunity to attend the sought-after games.
Furthermore, according to ticket sales on viagogo, for the very first time, the majority of spectators for the NFL’s trio of games in London this year were UK-based fans, rather than visitors from abroad, with 66% of ticket-buyers living in the host country – a 30% uplift since 2019.
Such a surge in demand explains why the UK now ranks third overall for total NFL ticket purchases globally on viagogo, behind only the US and Canada.
“The global appeal for America’s most popular sport continues to rise and our data shows that the NFL has now truly cracked its UK fanbase,” says Cris Miller, managing director of viagogo.
“With demand for the international series soaring year-on-year, the league is now committed to taking some of the most enticing games of the season to the world stage. It’s no surprise that demand to see the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs take on the Miami Dolphins in Frankfurt is the second-most in-demand game on our platform for the whole regular season.”
However, the NFL’s international ambitions extend beyond the UK – and even Germany. As NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in September: “Growing the game globally is a major strategic priority for the League.”
Given the reach and marketing platform available through the likes of viagogo, secondary ticketing platforms can help to fuel worldwide interest.
After all, ticket-buyers for NFL games on viagogo this season have come from a total of 74 different countries – up from 49 countries last season. Fans from 65 countries have snapped up tickets for the NFL International Series in London and Frankfurt this year – with 55 countries represented in the stands at Wembley Stadium and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium alone.
“A major factor in the NFL’s success abroad is its flexibility in ticketing,” Miller adds. The league has embraced secondary marketplaces to promote more widely its games and reach broader audiences. In viagogo’s case, the platform is a safe space where fans across 195 countries can access 50 million event listings at any one time. We invest heavily in marketing local and international events, making it easy for fans to view listings in their language and pay with their currency, all with a global money-back guarantee.
“With NFL sales across almost half of our total markets in 2023, it’s clear how secondary ticketing platforms can fill empty seats with excited fans, resulting in better atmospheres and more appealing spectacles.”
Moreover, the variable nature of ticket pricing on viagogo further enhances access to sporting contests, such as NFL games, for fans with a range of budgets. For example, as of October 4, tickets remained on sale via viagogo for the two remaining 2023 NFL International Series games in London for below face value, as well as above.
According to viagogo, whilst increasing demand for NFL International Series tickets on secondary platforms is helping to drive the globalisation of the league, fans in the US are also seizing the opportunity to gain access to unmissable games through the regulated resale market.
Indeed, fans face an ever-more challenging task to buy NFL tickets for big games through primary sources. In 2022, the average attendance in the NFL reached nearly 69,500 – comfortably the largest figure in world sport for a domestic league – with 31 of the 32 teams selling at least 92% of their capacity. Seven of the teams were at capacity for every single home game.
With this in mind, it appears that more people are turning to secondary platforms to secure tickets.
Ahead of the 2023 season kick-off in September, viagogo reported huge increases in ticket sales for teams like the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, with spikes of 451% and 317% respectively, while demand for Las Vegas Raiders tickets tripled, with the team’s Allegiant Stadium set to host the NFL Super Bowl in February.
Furthermore, the impact of Taylor Swift’s appearance in the stands at a Chiefs game versus the Chicago Bears also demonstrated how the NFL is embedded into the heart of the US entertainment landscape.
Digital streaming platform Roku said that the largest demographic increase for the Chiefs versus Bears game was among women aged between 18 and 49 – a 63% week-over-week increase. Meanwhile, following Swift’s appearance, more tickets were sold via viagogo in a single day for an upcoming Chiefs game than on any other day since the start of the season.
“The NFL has created an enviable model based on a long-term vision to open up the sport to more fans in more markets than ever before,” Miller explains. “Ticketing, and the secondary marketplace, has been central to that aim and many European-based leagues and event owners can profit from a similar approach. By working more closely with secondary ticketing platforms like viagogo, the sports industry can expand its reach, better understand its audience, improve fan engagement and add a distribution channel that is safe, secure, reliable and regulated.”
The excitement surrounding the early weeks of the new NFL season shows how ambitious leagues can formulate long-term strategies to build fan bases at home and abroad. Meanwhile, for sports leagues worldwide, the opportunity to leverage the secondary market to increase ticketing distribution and accessibility appears to have never been clearer.