These Americans, eh?
First, they take our nation’s beloved favourite sport of football and bastardise the name (not to mention being pretty bad at playing ‘soccer’), but now they have brought their own version of football – which they play mainly with their hands – to the UK and are playing it here.
What is it with these people?
We’re kidding of course (sort of), but if you have been wondering by the NFL are dragging their teams all the way over to England to play American Football then you aren’t the only one.
At huge expense, the NFL have been using British stadia to host their American Football games, and not exhibition type games either, real ones between the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants, for example, that count towards the regular season.
The Premier League don’t send the Liverpool vs Man Utd derby to be played over in California, so what is going on here?
Well, it’s all about broadening the appeal of American Football, and by having a few of the games played in the UK each season, they are creating not only a fan base for the sport, but for the teams that play here.
It’s not the first time the American Football invasion has been attempted either.
NFL International Series
Each team competing in the NFL, is actually a franchise of the NFL.
This means that, to some degree, the NFL has control over them, so when it was decided that a good way to promote the sport in general would be to play NFL games outside of the US, teams had to go along with it.
Not that many of them were complaining – any team playing one of their home games internationally is given $1 million for their trouble, the ‘visitors’ get nothing.
The way this is all organised is incredibly convoluted and not very interesting, but the point is, in order to increase the NFL’s popularity and fanbase, the organisation took the decision to export a few games per season to other countries, and this is known as the NFL International Series.
This is why the UK is home to a few NFL fixtures each season.
The first time this happened was in 2007, when the Miami Dolphins ‘hosted’ the New York Giants at Wembley. It proved incredibly popular, selling out in hours and being broadcast on national TV drawing millions more spectators.
Here are all the NFL games played in the UK, along with the score and the stadium used for the game, from 2007 until 2022:
|Year||Visiting Team||Score||Home Team||Score||Stadium||Attendance|
|2007||New York Giants||13||Miami Dolphins||10||Wembley Stadium||81,176|
|2008||San Diego Chargers||32||New Orleans Saints||37||Wembley Stadium||83,226|
|2009||New England Patriots||35||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||7||Wembley Stadium||84,254|
|2010||Denver Broncos||16||San Francisco 49ers||24||Wembley Stadium||83,941|
|2011||Chicago Bears||24||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||18||Wembley Stadium||76,981|
|2012||New England Patriots||45||St. Louis Rams||7||Wembley Stadium||84,004|
|2013||Pittsburgh Steelers||27||Minnesota Vikings||34||Wembley Stadium||83,518|
|2013||San Francisco 49ers||42||Jacksonville Jaguars||10||Wembley Stadium||83,559|
|2014||Miami Dolphins||38||Oakland Raiders||14||Wembley Stadium||83,436|
|2014||Detroit Lions||22||Atlanta Falcons||21||Wembley Stadium||83,532|
|2014||Dallas Cowboys||31||Jacksonville Jaguars||17||Wembley Stadium||83,603|
|2015||New York Jets||27||Miami Dolphins||14||Wembley Stadium||83,986|
|2015||Buffalo Bills||31||Jacksonville Jaguars||34||Wembley Stadium||84,021|
|2015||Detroit Lions||10||Kansas City Chiefs||45||Wembley Stadium||83,624|
|2016||Indianapolis Colts||27||Jacksonville Jaguars||30||Wembley Stadium||83,798|
|2016||New York Giants||17||Los Angeles Rams||10||Twickenham Stadium||74,121|
|2016||Washington Redskins||27||Cincinnati Bengals||27||Wembley Stadium||84,448|
|2017||Baltimore Ravens||7||Jacksonville Jaguars||44||Wembley Stadium||84,592|
|2017||New Orleans Saints||20||Miami Dolphins||0||Wembley Stadium||84,423|
|2017||Arizona Cardinals||0||Los Angeles Rams||33||Twickenham Stadium||73,736|
|2017||Minnesota Vikings||33||Cleveland Browns||16||Twickenham Stadium||74,237|
|2018||Seattle Seahawks||27||Oakland Raiders||3||Wembley Stadium||84,922|
|2018||Tennessee Titans||19||Los Angeles Chargers||20||Wembley Stadium||84,301|
|2018||Philadelphia Eagles||24||Jacksonville Jaguars||18||Wembley Stadium||85,870|
|2019||Chicago Bears||21||Oakland Raiders||24||Tottenham Hotspur Stadium||60,463|
|2019||Carolina Panthers||37||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||26||Tottenham Hotspur Stadium||60,087|
|2019||Cincinnati Bengals||10||Los Angeles Rams||24||Wembley Stadium||83,720|
|2019||Houston Texans||26||Jacksonville Jaguars||3||Wembley Stadium||84,771|
|2021||New York Jets||20||Atlanta Falcons||27||Tottenham Hotspur Stadium||60,589|
|2021||Miami Dolphins||20||Jacksonville Jaguars||23||Tottenham Hotspur Stadium||60,784|
|2022||Minnesota Vikings||28||New Orleans Saints||25||Tottenham Hotspur Stadium||60,639|
|2022||New York Giants||27||Green Bay Packers||22||Tottenham Hotspur Stadium||61,024|
|2022||Denver Broncos||21||Jacksonville Jaguars||17||Wembley Stadium||86,215|
As you can see, Wembley was exclusively the home of the NFL in the UK between 2007 and 2016, but Twickenham and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium have also been introduced since, though London remains the only city the NFL visits.
Other stadia in the UK have been shortlisted for potential future fixtures though, including the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, and Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh.
The NFL even made a bid to become the tenants of the Olympic Stadium, now known as London Stadium and home of West Ham Utd. Obviously then, the bid failed, but it shows the NFL’s dedication to forcing their way into the UK.
You might notice from this table that certain teams ‘host’ at UK stadiums a lot more than others. This is because deals are made with specific teams concerning their international home games.
You can think of it like having a second home, or a holiday home. The Jacksonville Jaguars, for example, had a longstanding deal to play 1 home game a year at Wembley between 2013-2020, and that deal was extended. So Wembley was sort of like their second home, no doubt with their own growing section of UK based fans too.
There has even been talk of an existing NFL franchise relocating permanently to London, which would make the NFL a dual nation league.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are most often touted as the team that would be moved if this was to ever go ahead, since they already have the strongest links here, but moving a whole team from its home town to another country entirely would be a very bold move indeed.
NFL Around the World
Although the UK has been the prime target for the NFL in the past, the International Series includes a few other countries too.
In 2016, the first NFL game hosted in Mexico took place, when the Houston Texans took on the Oakland Raiders at the Estadio Azteca, Mexico City; and in 2022 the Seattle Seahawks aced off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Allianz Arena in Munich, marking Germany’s first ever NFL game.
The NFL have tried and failed three times to host a game from China, while the Buffalo Bills played a regular season game in Canada from 2008 until 2013 in what was known as the Bills Toronto Series.
It looks like the NFL are really looking at upping their game too, since an International Home Marketing Areas Initiative was announced in 2022, allowing 19 teams from the league to freely market their teams across 14 different countries.
Again, this is all about the NFL increasing their brand globally, and teams had to submit proposals to the NFL to be allowed to market themselves in specific countries. Therefore, certain international markets are only available to certain franchises.
In the UK, the teams were:
- Chicago Bears
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- Miami Dolphins
- Minnesota Vikings
- New York Jets
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- San Francisco 49ers
So if you noticed marketing efforts from these teams, now you know why.
The specific aims of the IHMAI were to create a fan base and increase fan engagement, and market the franchises via personal appearances, sponsorship and merchandising in order to build their individual brands and therefore increase the NFL’s global popularity.
Looking at the figures for the NFL games held in the UK, you would have to say this is working, because just 3% of those sell out crowds are thought to be Americans or American expats, with 82% being from the UK and the rest being tourists.
A Brief History of American Football in the UK
American football is thought to have been ‘invented’ around 1869/70, and possibly in those early days it was an amalgamation of UK football and rugby, sports taken over there from Britain during colonisation.
In a way then, you could say that American football ‘came home’ the first time an organised game took place on British shores.
That was in 1910, when sailors from the USS Idaho beat a team from the USS Vermont 19-0, in a game played at Crystal Palace.
It was more military action, namely World War 2, that brought the sport back to this country.
During the war, many servicemen stationed here would play for fun, so word about the sport spread. However, it was an official game between US and Canadian troops known as the ‘tea bowl’ that really got people interested, taking place at White City and drawing a crowd of some 30,000 people.
The Canadians won this game 16-6, prompting a re-match known as the ‘coffee bowl’, which attracted upwards of 50,000 spectators, largely because on the American team was Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, Tommy Thompson, newly arrived from the States.
He helped his team to an 18-0 victory this time around, and a US Army vs US Navy game would follow.
Things went quiet in the UK in terms of American football after the war; it wasn’t until the 1980s that the sport really resurfaced in this country.
Channel 4 started showing weekly NFL highlights in 1982, and as interest in the sport grew, British teams began to crop up, resulting in the first British American Football game in 1983, between the London Ravens and the Northwich Spartans.
By the mid-1980s, 40 teams were competing in two different leagues, and the term ‘Britball’ was being used as a name for the sport in the UK.
With help from a £300,000 cash injection from sponsors, Budweiser, the sport gained traction and more teams formed, so by 1986 the NFL decided to capitalise on this popularity and bring their first ever game over to England; the Chicago Bears took on the Dallas Cowboys at Wembley.
Now Americans were being imported to help train and coach British teams, and the NFL realised they could make an awful lot more money if American Football was heavily adopted over here.
They formed the World League of American football to help this process alomng, for teams outside of America to compete in, although it didn’t last long. It was replaced with the NFL Europa League, which did better, but that too was over and done with by 2005.
Back in the UK domestic game however, the sport had been consolidated in 1998 when the British American Football League was set up to govern the game at a national level, keeping things level for a decade or so.
This organisation ran into difficulties in 2010 and was replaced by the British American Football Association (BAFA) in the same year, who now run the British American Football Association National League (BAFANL).
This league consists of 70 teams across different regional divisions, who all compete annually for the ultimate prize, the Britbowl.
The sport is still non-professional as far as the players are concerned, although club staff can draw a wage, with attendances for each game around 400-500, raising to several thousands for the Britbowl itself.
It clearly has a ways to go before it can be compared with the NFL then, but these things always start small.