THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
After a year away due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the National Football League will return to London this year. The announcement was made early last month ahead of the full season schedule release and sees the return of popular franchises as the NFL looks to ease fans back into stadiums, although at the time of writing there has been no decision as to what capacity we can expect at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The venue, which is custom made for NFL games, will have seen some fans back by then as it also plays host to soccer, and the guidelines regarding large outdoor crowds seem to be easing with this week’s decision to allow full capacity at the Wimbledon tennis championship’s final rounds, and half capacity at the latter stages of the Euro 2020 soccer games at Wembley Stadium.
The two NFL International games will be held in October, as is now traditional, and both will kick off at 2.30pm UK time. The first, on Sunday October 10, has the Atlanta Falcons hosting the New York Jets. A week later, October 17, sees the Jacksonville Jaguars facing the Miami Dolphins. This means that all being well, UK-based fans will see the talents of both the number one draft pick Trevor Lawrence, the new Jags QB, and the second overall 2021 draft selection, QB Zach Wilson of the Jets.
“We are excited to be returning to London and welcoming back our fans for two great matchups. We expect these games to be a celebration of our sport and our robust UK fan base.” said Christopher Halpin, NFL Executive Vice-President – Chief Strategy & Growth Officer. “We have been working closely with the UK government, the City of London and the relevant health organizations over the past year in planning the games. Through their successful vaccine rollout and commitment to bringing crowds back to sports events, the time is right for the return of NFL football this fall.”
This past week the NFL made further steps in broadening the game across Europe by issuing a statement that shows their intent on playing regular season games in Germany. The opening lines read that they are “Seeking to identify a long-term partner city to build on substantial German fan momentum.” Brett Gosper, NFL Head of UK and Europe explained more: “The International Series has become a highlight of the sporting calendar in the UK, with many fans coming from Germany to attend. This process is designed to explore potential local partnerships, stadium suitability and game logistics.” The fan base in Germany is big and the game has been played there in many forms for a long time. The local league is strong, they have hosted NFL Games in the past with five pre-season games held there between 1990-94. Germany had successful franchises in the NFL Europe between 1991 and 2007, with Berlin, Cologne and Frankfurt among the main players then.
Germany has a proven football fan base dating back to a similar time when the sport first hit UK shores. Recently following this has seen a huge upturn with its television market share going up 20% since 2017, and for the third successive year it has set a record viewing figure for the Super Bowl, as well as continued growth in shop sales, video game and fantasy football participation.
“We need engaged and motivated host partners that span the public sector, venue, sport, community and major event spheres and can help us deliver high-impact event and a long-term partnership.” added Gosper. “Identifying a host city is a key step in bringing regular-season NFL games to our millions of German fans.” This comes off the back of a commitment made by the NFL that from 2022 all 32 teams will have to play in an International Series game at least once in an eight-year cycle. This means more regular overseas trips for all teams, instead of overseas fans seeing familiar ones each year. Up to four neutral site games per year will be scheduled outside of the US.