Would NFL Europe Succeed This Time Around?

This weekend, we see the pomp and circumstance that is the NFL return to London to play another game at Wembley, this time between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Chicago Bears. And with it comes the hope from the NFL franchise owners that a big pay day in Europe will become an even more regular thing.

 

The NFL began to bring one regular-season game to the UK back in 2007, and has done for the last five years. This Sunday's game is the first time the match has not sold out - the NFL citing the poor ticket sales being down to the fact the match was only confirmed last month, after the player lock-out during the summer.

 

In reality, all 32 of the NFL franchises are scrambling for the golden ticket to Wembley each year. They know it's an opportunity to gain more fans, and thus more money, from a trip to Europe. The Buccaneers were here in 2007, and have come back this year, this time bringing their own home game, showing quite how big a game this can be.

 

But it's very reminiscent of the MLS - a sport that attempted to move elsewhere to a massive potential market, failed miserably, and had to start again, leading to what the MLS looks like today. A big dip in popularity in 2002 led to the league facing imminent closure, but a sudden growth and interest in football after the 2002 World Cup led to bigger crowds, new teams, and David Beckham, obviously. A change in rules, allowing for bigger international stars to play for the teams, more media output, and the agreements between the US and Mexico introducing the likes of the SuperLiga gave a bigger audience an opportunity to watch football, and get interested. The imminent expansion to the 20th team looks to take football to a bigger area within the States, and interest from another 10 different cities to take an MLS license could even lead to a second division being created.

 

So why am I giving you a history lesson in Major League Soccer? Well, as many of you may remember, the NFL did used to have an arm here in Europe - called, very imaginatively, NFL Europe. Originally known as the World League, it included 10 teams from the US, Canada, the UK, Germany and Spain, and over the 50 games during the season, pulled in over a million people in attendance. Relatively expensive tickets and a lack of big TV coverage scuppered that plan, but the NFL launched NFL Europe in 1995.

 

A steady decline led to the league being cancelled in 2007, however, since then, another resurgence in the sport here in the UK has started again, bringing viewing figures back to the 1980's heyday. A re-launch on Sky, and the BBC picking up some rights, and showing the SuperBowl, has brought American Football back to the homes of millions, reigniting the passion of many, and inspiring many younger and new fans of the sport - myself included.

 

So would a relaunch of NFL Europe now succeed, and become part of everyday life? My view is yes - it'll work. Sell franchise licenses at small prices to increase interest, and limit the licenses to two or three per country. Allow it to start small, with small stadia to ensure sell-outs, and get a big TV deal across the continent to ensure maximum fan bases. Sow the seeds and allow it to grow - very similar to the MLS.

 

The world's biggest sport comes to London this weekend. Possibly, soon enough, the world's biggest sport will come to London every weekend.

 

Agree with me? Want to add your tuppence worth? Follow me on Twitter - I'm @Adam9309 - or find me on my own blog!

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Comment by WorldClass on October 24, 2011 at 22:31
I know people who are fanatical about it... all the stats and plays... confuses the feck out of me i'm afraid... stop start stop start advert have they started yet? he threw the ball Crunch... somebody runs round like a loon, "have they scored" no thats the first down... "why he celebrating?"... "he ran 30 yards"... I run about 30 yards in to the garden... and don't return... luckily it was nice out and the ladys where all out side chatting... 8)
Comment by Shades Of Red on October 21, 2011 at 21:07
hmm I'd give it a go I guess, I can't say I'd have a hardcore regular interest but I think the issue is unless it got serious media attention (which in itself relies on interest from the public) I don't think many would take notice... In other words, thinking about it now, launching a sport into a new country already dominated by sports is a very difficult thing to do, just look at ''soccer'' in America.
Comment by Adam Mills on October 21, 2011 at 16:46
So do you all feel that if the NFL was launched here in Europe, you would take a noted interest? Possibly support a team or attend a game?
Comment by Shades Of Red on October 21, 2011 at 15:44
I'll admit I know literally nothing about NFL (or rugby) but on the rare occasion that I do watch, I do enjoy watching NFL, I'd say more so than Rugby... Not sure what the future holds for it in the UK, I mean we can't even get into basketball which is a bit embarrassing considering it's so big just about everywhere else... Not a huge fan of that either though.
Comment by Stiggy_Villan on October 21, 2011 at 14:40
I think if done right, maybe get a few TV companies to agree in principle to air at least one game a week, then maybe yes.  I think the main problem with some people not liking NFL is due to they don't understand it so that would also need to be addressed.  It would also be useful if the NFL didn't use it as a place to train their rookies and the Europe league could attract a few good players, maybe say for instance Randy Moss as he is retired but see if he would be interested in joining an NFL Europe team for one season, I think that would excite existing NFL fans in Europe to watch it.  If done right it could be a success and may work but they need to learn mistakes from last time and try and make this league as big and as good as the NFL and maybe eventually have the winner of the superbowl take on the winner of the worldbowl, it all depends on how the NFL decide to market it and use it.  It is a tough question and I suppose it wouldn't hurt to try.
Comment by Adam Mills on October 20, 2011 at 19:51
So do you not feel that with the right clubs, infrastructure and MLS-style 'grooming', if you like, that it would be a massive success? There's a big fan base here already, and plenty of clubs and players in the UK and in Europe, and it's still one of the biggest growing sports outside of the US and Canada...
Comment by Stiggy_Villan on October 20, 2011 at 19:32

Thought American football was being played at Wembley this weekend not association football :P I think association is the biggest sport anyway.

   I will now answer your question,no I would not like to see NFL Europe, the reason being it will be poor, most good players play in the NFL, I like the NFL in fact I am gutted because my team (New England Pats) have a bye this weekend meaning I have to find something else to cheer me up if my beloved Villa lose again.  But like the XFL NFL Europe will fail simply because of the level of skill, I wouldn't watch it and I don't think Sky or BBC or ESPN would pick it up also I don't think we have a big enough fan base of American football fans, I know 3 American football fans and two of them are because of my influence and the other is falling out of love with the game. In saying that I would like more games in England so I could go and see them when I can actually afford luxuries like watching sport at the stadium (Poor student atm) but I would only really like to see the Pats plus the English team was called the London Monarch's (until their final season) which for me I wouldn't like to follow as I don't like London, we would need a team called English Monarch's or something similar for me to feel connected, also if I remember correctly didn't the German's take over the league towards the end? 
  In short I would just like NFL to stay the way it is, wonderfully complicated and wholly American. Plus I feel attached to the NE Patriots and don't mind watching and supporting them.

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