Over the last eight years, an important relationship has developed between London and the NFL. The love that Londoners have shown for football since the International Series arrived on British shores in 2007 has given NFL bosses serious food for thought. The game that Brits call “American Football” has never been more popular in the UK than it is right now.
For a long time, the NFL struggled to register on the radar of the many millions of avid sports fans who live in the UK. It was the preserve of a select group of dedicated NFL geeks, who would stay up late to watch the games as they were broadcast live from the USA, but you would have struggled to find anyone in the British Isles who described themselves as a true fan before 2005. To try and grow a fan-base across the Atlantic, the NFL staged a pre-season game in London every year from 1986 to 2005, with the grand old Wembley Stadium playing host up to its demolition in 2002.
But in 2007, the NFL upped the ante when the International Series was launched, bringing regular season games to the UK every year since then. The brand new Wembley stadium hosted the first of these games, when Brandon Jacobs inspired the New York Giants to a 13-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins in quagmire conditions, in a season that culminated in a Super Bowl win for the Giants. This planted the seed that has since borne fruit for both fans and organizers, as the strong British culture of spectator sports adopted football and made it part of the country’s passion for high octane sporting entertainment.
Football has been intelligently marketed to the UK at all levels. Household names in the states like the LA Raiders have made a hugely positive impact by running training sessions with British youngsters before their London-based games, helping to build a new generation of fans who will give the NFL a following that NFL Europa struggled to achieve during its 1990s heyday.
As well as inspiring young people to take an interest in the sport, NFL has a strong appeal to the British sports betting market, and many high street bookmakers and online betting destinations now offer odds on NFL games.
Sports betting is a huge industry in the UK, where it is completely legal throughout the country, and attractive bookmaker signup offers have helped to elevate the popularity of online sports betting above its high street equivalent in recent years. The games hosted in London haven’t disappointed the new legions of NFL fans either. In 2008 the Saints edged a thrilling clash with the Chargers 37-32, while a 2014 fixture saw the Lions overcome a 21-0 half-time deficit to launch a stunning comeback and win 22-21 against the Falcons. Such is the NFL’s popularity in the UK, there is even talk of the Jacksonville Jaguars relocating to London permanently, which would give Britain a unique stake in a league that it truly has grown to love.