This Sunday saw the first of two regular season National Football League (NFL) matches at Wembley Stadium in London as the Minnesota Vikings beat the Pittsburgh Stealers 34-27 (you can find my review of that match on sports pages here: http://www.westerneye.net/sport/2013/10/minnesota-vikings-beat-pittsburgh-steelers-in-thrilling-clash-at-wembley/) Every year since 2007, two professional American Football teams have played a regular season match in London and this year sees for the first time two separate games taking place in London when the San Francisco 49ers play the Jacksonville Jaguars on 27th of October. The NFL has wanted to increase the popularity of the sport in the UK and this clearly is working due to there being two matches taking place over the space of one month. Even here at UWE the sport is extremely popular with 378 people signing up for try-outs, and over 100 people expressing further interest in playing for the team. Tom Williams suggests why this sport, which was until recently, was almost unheard of here in the UK, is becoming increasingly popular.
Matt Dyke, who is coach of the UWE Bullets American Football team, said he feels American Football is becoming more popular as a result of the NFL coming to London every year, sparking interest on a national level.
“Combine this with it finally gaining BUCS [British Universities & College Sport] status at the university level has led to more funding and support for setting up new clubs. Students are also at University to try new things. American football is a great example of something new and exciting.”
People may not want to try new things when they are in a brand new place with new people but university is the perfect place to try something different. Now that BUCS is helping to fund American Football at university level, the hope is that the sport will go from strength to strength across the country. Currently there are 77 different teams competing in 8 different leagues at university level, giving a lot of people the opportunity to try it. As for the UWE Bullets, last season they won 7 out of their 8 regular season games, including a victory over the University of Bristol in the varsity game. The team also recently announced on their website that they have been given permission by the UWESU to extend their squad size to incorporate more of the people who turned up to try-outs.
There are currently 50 teams playing in the 6 national leagues for the National and Premiership Britbowls. Having two NFL matches at Wembley stadium for the first time will only help to make the sport’s profile in UK much stronger, but what about holding games in other parts of the country? In the past Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh has expressed interest in holding an event there and so has the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, however both lost out to Wembley. But in the future there is certainly potential for more matches to be played across the UK as the sport continues to grow in popularity.
There are constantly rumours that teams could move over to the UK on a more permanent basis, however, this is still very unlikely. Despite Wembley being sold-out for both the games this season, ticket sales would be much lower if a franchise moved over to the UK. Part of the reason ticket sales over the past 6 years have been so good is because it isn’t a common occurrence. Fans all across the country travel down to London to see a game once a year as a special occasion, but if it was a much more regular event, people would be less likely to make the journey. The closest the UK will come (for the time being) to having an NFL franchise is the Jacksonville Jaguars who are committed to playing one home game a season at Wembley for the next 3 years. This is a step in the right direction, albeit a small one.
American Football still has a long way to go for it to become anywhere near as popular as its far more appropriately named cousin (although I personally prefer American Football, I will admit how poorly it is named) or even sports in the UK that draw smaller crowds than football such as rugby. I feel as the USA has embraced ‘soccer’, we should give American Football a fighting chance at becoming a part of British sporting culture.