On Wednesday, July 6, 2005, thousands of Londoners flooded the city's famous landmark, Trafalgar Square, to witness International Olympic Committee bid chairman, Lord Coe, announce whether London or Paris would become the lucky host of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. When Coe announced the capital of England would be the home of this past summer's Games, all in attendance burst into a thunderous celebration about the opportunity to promote the beauty of sport, British values and healthy competition to the entire world.
While the city successfully hosted the Olympics this summer, London's relationship with global sport is not quite over in 2012. On Sunday, the city played host to the National Football League Week 8 contest between the New England Patriots and St. Louis Rams. However, when I ventured to Trafalgar Square on Wednesday, barely any Brit enjoying the last few rays of the beautiful fall day showed similar excitement about the NFL in London as they did about the Olympics.
Why you may ask?
Because the NFL isn't properly catered to the British, and overall European, sports culture. The Patriots-Rams Week 8 matchup at Wembley Stadium was of course a sellout. But, unfortunately, the sellout is more due to the British fans' general excitement for the event, not for the game.
Of the people I spoke to at Trafalgar Square during the week, the only person who truly possessed any significant NFL knowledge, was married to an American, and had attended a few Super Bowl parties in the States. A group of 16 and 17-year-old teenagers mixed up the NFL and the NBA, a diehard Arsenal soccer fan didn't know what a quarterback was and one nice gentleman thought Tom Brady's goal was to kick a pigskin into an end zone.
Unlike the NBA, the NFL barely makes an effective attempt to internationally market its product. NFL Europe, an American football league that existed in select European cities, failed to last for more than 16 years when it folded in 2007. And now, Jacksonville Jaguars owner, Shad Khan, is sending his team across the pond to Wembley for one home game a year during the 2013-2016 season. Currently, the Jaguars struggle to sellout their home games in Florida, forcing Khan to believe that there are better options elsewhere. While it may seem that expanding the viewership of the NFL is great for business and the league's product, it actually diminishes the game.
For starters, the British, and overall European, people aren't accustomed to the speed of American football. Many people I discussed football with explained how British people absolutely hate watching the incredible number of commercials during NFL broadcasts. Being used to 45 straight minutes of competitive soccer action, the constant stoppage of play is somewhat irritating to foreign NFL spectators.
Secondly, Wembley stadium isn't truly suited for an NFL contest. While the stadium does seat over 80,000 fans for an American football game, the arena area doesn't possess football fan-friendly features and the concession area of the complex has absolutely no aesthetic elements whatsoever. In the arena, there are only two jumbo-trons that are too miniscule to even be considered jumbo. There are no screens to constantly show statistics and there aren't other screens to keep fans attention buzzing during the downtime of the game. Specifically, the stadium staff hardly ever engaged the fans with give-aways and activities. In the concession area, the stands are simply labeled, "Food" or "Merchandise." Overall, for being considered the nicest stadium in Europe, it can barely compete with the oldest NFL stadiums of today, let alone the modern complexes.
The game experience was something of its own category as well. With the NFL-sponsored tailgate in the stadium parking lot, the rainbow of NFL jerseys and herds of fans flocking the stadium, Wembley had a Super Bowl-like aura in the air outside the building. However, the second you entered the stadium, it became immediately evident that the fans were attending an event and not a game.
To sum up the in-game atmosphere, it was very similar to the Her Majesty's Theatre's atmosphere in which I saw the Phantom of the Opera on Saturday night. The audience applauded when acceptable and was relatively silent otherwise.
The London Times didn't even mention the game in their Sports section Sunday morning. And, I haven't even mentioned the fact that the St. Louis Rams lost a home game to go play in London in front of a New England fan-dominated crowd.
Expanding the NFL's global accessibility is definitely a positive for the league's marketability, revenue and brand, but I don't think they're going about such positives in the correct way. Why not play multiple preseason games a year in London? Why not send a team across the pond for their entire training camp? Maybe even play the Pro Bowl in England's capital. But, forcing a team to sacrifice a home game to play thousands of miles over seas in front of a crowd who isn't emotionally invested in the game on the field? That's just a waste.
Football has become America's game of the 21st century. So, let's keep it in 50 states, where even if they don't sell out, fans are actually emotionally invested and in-game atmospheres are actually interesting.