Nine years on from the first NFL game to be staged at Wembley, the future is bright for American Football in London, and in the UK in general.
The last game of this season’s International Series in the NFL is upon us, as the Washington Redskins take on the Cincinnati Bengals at Wembley this Sunday. It’s nine years to the day that Wembley hosted its first NFL game which saw the Giants defeat the Dolphins in the first regular season NFL match to be held outside North America. With the popularity of the sport increasing in the UK, one wonders what the future holds for American Football in London.
Sadiq Khan spoke earlier this week of his desire for the International Series to be increased from three to four games from next season, after the London mayor held talks with NFL commissioner Rogert Goodell. There is no doubt that the demand is there for this expansion, with crowds at each game rising each year.
This year’s series featured the first gridiron game to be played away from Wembley, as Twickenham played host to the Rams and the Giants in front of a sell out crowd of 75,000. In fact, it was the first competitive game, aside from rugby union, to be played at the west London venue. Furthermore, a deal has been reached with Tottenham Hotspur for two games to be played each season at their new stadium which is currently under construction, so in regards to potential venues, London has many options.
Indeed, the success of the International Series, which this year again featured a festival dedicated to the NFL on Regent Street, has prompted talk of a potential London-based franchise. Commissioner Goodall has been supportive of such a development, highlighting that the NFL has more teams interested in taking part in the International Series than there are available games. Tottenham’s new ground at Northumberland Park would likely be home to a future London franchise, with the stadium being designed specifically to host both Association and American football.
The question is, perhaps, whether or not the novelty of having NFL games in London would eventually wear off. While tickets may sell out for the three games currently held each year, attendances may dwindle if these games were taking place every other week. Also, most British American football fanatics will already support US teams, and so switching allegiances to a London franchise may prove difficult.
Without any doubt, American football’s popularity is at an all time high in Britain, and it would be foolish for the NFL not to cash in on this ever expanding market. However, it is vital that decisions are not rushed into, and that consideration is taken before thrusting an existing team – most likely the Jaguars – into uncharted territory.
Overall, the future of American football in the UK is bright, and NFL fans in Britain can remain confident that there will be plenty of games to attend for the foreseeable future. One day, we might take pride in an NFL team that we can call our own.