With the NFL putting expanding its sport outside the border of the US as one of its chief priorities, going as far as scheduling regular season games outside the US, its time to take a look at how the great sport can expand around the world and change its audience from being 99% American to something a little more diverse.
At the center of it all is money of course, particulary ensuring that future growth is possible once the home market is completely saturated (LA is the second biggest city in the US and still doesn't have a NFL team). The dream of NFL commisioner Roger Goodell is that one day there will be enough fans in Europe to setup a team there, and there have even been talks of hosting the Super Bowl abroad to further create interest. London seems to be the prime candidate as the 250,000 American ex-pats living in the greater London area would snap those tickets up just like they have the last three regular season NFL games there. But hosting one game a year in one city in one country certainly won't accomplish the goal of creating a large dedicated fanbase. In order to do that, there will have to be some changes:
- Start out by hosting games in places with a lot of American ex-pats. Canada, Mexico, England and Germany are prime candidates. The NFL recognizes that in order to prove to other countries that American football is important it must be able to ride the interest of those who have already been fans since back when they lived in the US. Sports are an inherently social affair and the enthusiasm of one person can rub of on the next.
- Focus on promoting personalities and make the players more human. In England, every kid wants to become a Premier League player because Premier League players are payed millions, drive around in expensive Italian cars and are continually in the gossip columns over whether they are cheating on one supermodel with another supermodel. NFL needs to create a sense of glamor and personality to the players that goes beyond these players being 280lb guys in pads and having hidden faces behind the helmet.
- Since American football isn't an Olympic sport, it should seek to create some sort of international competition. Rugby has done great with its version of the world cup, basketball has the world championships, most sports have either a world championship or are in the olympics and baseball is working hard to create its version of the world cup. Every great sport needs global competition.
- Think of a different name to promote the sport. I realize to Americans football means NFL, but the word football is firmly entrenched in the UK as meaning the foot-to-ball sport. This will never change. Gridiron or something along those lines should be used for promotion purposes. Naming your sport the same as the older sport it originated from which dominates the global sporting interest is not a good idea.
- Less standing around and commericals, more action. To most people this is the biggest thing preventing american football from becoming beloved around the world like basketball has become. The average NFL game lasts 3 hours and has 12 minutes of ball in play action! That means that 95% of the time you are watching time outs, guys walking on and off the field, standing listening to the coach, adjusting their pads, looking around and of course an endless smorgasboard of commericals for alcohol and impotence drugs. My suggestion would be to create a time limit on the amount of inaction, similar to the time limit in basketball for when the coach calls a timeout. American football must overcome its slow pace and endless stops if it is to prosper outside the US.
- Show more of what the coaches are doing. Coaches literally draw out what each player should do in this sport, they micromanage everything to a degree unseen in any other sport. This is very bizarre and confusing to those used to actual players making the plays on the spot depending on what's happening at that moment. This needs to be better explained in some way on TV, perphaps by hiring better commentators who could explain the large part of American football that is determined by the coach on the sideline.
- Create a domestic league. Sports are all about supporting your local side, and nowhere will you find more dedication than for those fans cheering on their home team.
- Try to align yourself with the dominant "other football" teams in that region. The Glazer family owns both the Bucks and Man United, there could be some cross promotion here. Manchester United has been selling out games playing exhibitions in the US for a while now during the offseason, why not create cross promotions between the teams. Have Wayne Rooney show off how to play as a running back, have Didier Drogba playing as a reciever and have some 6`5 center back like Christopher Samba play as linebacker. In a commerical of course. Then have a NFL lineman try to dribble a ball around some cones. Its all in good silly fun and people would love it.
- Get NFL american football players to play a match against Guiness rugby players. Who would not want to see Chabal against Tom Brady.
- Cheerleaders. More of them.
So there we go, a light hearted look at how NFL could one day become watched and cared about in Europe and worldwide. Off to watch the London Monarchs...