For the majority of British NFL fans the love affair began in the eighties with the 1986 preseason game between the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys.
There have been some ups and downs in terms of interest but it finally seems the gridiron bug has bitten for real.
This year’s Wembley match, the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers, appears on the surface to be two mid ranked teams but for those old enough to remember John Elway and Joe Montana it’s a match made in heaven.
With seven Super Bowls between them, the occasion may mask the fact that these two teams are not currently as successful as some of the previous winners of the International Series.
Without a franchise of their own most British fans will usually pick the best team at the time to support, for those who started watching in the last ten years it’s either the Steelers or the Patriots. Most of the thirty plus men I know support the 49ers, Bears, Broncos or the Cowboys due to these franchises successes in the 1980s and 90s.
The announcement of two west coast teams playing in London came as a surprise to most in the UK; the majority of the teams who have played at Wembley so far have been East coast teams but it seems to make sense when you consider the fan base and therefore money making potential of a trip across the pond.
“For the past three years we have seen the extraordinary passion that exists for NFL football in the UK,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We want to continue to build on that passion by strengthening our ties to our existing UK fans and creating new ones.”
The British fans appreciate the NFL bringing games to Wembley and it is having a positive effect on the home grown sport. The British American Football League [BAFL.] The league now has 3 leagues and 50 teams spread as far afield as Plymouth and Edinburgh. Viewership of NFL Sunday, a Sunday night show which shows 3 games on a Sunday evening on Sky Sports, is up by 65% on last year’s showing an increase in interest in the sport.
However the game plays out the future looks bright for NFL in the United Kingdom. I don’t believe rumours of either a Super Bowl or a franchise in the UK will ever become reality. The thought of Seattle flying 11 hour to play in London every 2 years seems unlikely and with the cancellation of the second UK game it seems the NFL will be increasing its influence in the UK slowly over the next few years.