American football is America’s game. A lot of different nations have their own sport or an athletic activity they can rightly and proudly call their own. For the Australians, it’s Aussie Rules football. For the Japanese, it’s sumo wrestling. For the Thai’s, it’s Muay Thai kickboxing. Sure, these sports have surfaced at the grassroots level (and beyond in some cases) in other regions of the world, but will nonetheless remain an intrinsic part of the nation in which they were born.
The NFL, or American football in general, is wholly American – rugged, patriotic, vast, complex, awe-inspiring and soaked in consumerism. Imagine then, if you will, the hullabaloo that went on when it was officially announced that wheels were in motion for NFL fixtures to take place on British soil. Such a thing was unthinkable a few decades ago. But American football is changing. Once, it was America’s and America’s only. Now, the officials at the National Football League have decided it’s time to share their game with us – their transatlantic cousins. By playing a few games a year in the United Kingdom, the NFL have shown the world their eagerness to diversify, as well as a willingness to incorporate foreign culture into their beloved national sport.
Naturally, there have been a few teething problems, and the relationship between NFL and Britain is still very much in its infancy. Yet, there has been considerable evidence to suggest that there is a future for the National Football League in Britain. Here, we examine how and why the NFL first came to the UK, as well as what the future holds for American football being played on British soil.
Why Has The National Football League And American Football Come To The UK?
The first question you may be keen to learn the answer to is: Why has the NFL decided to move to the United Kingdom in the first place?
Simply put – the NFL determined in 2007 that it wanted to play games away from America in order to promote the game outside of the States and increase awareness and interest on foreign lands. As a result, the bigwigs at the National football League thought up the concept of the NFL International Series – a system where a handful games during the regular NFL season would be played in other countries around the world.
So far, England has been the only country where the NFL International Series has taken place, but there are plans for matches to be played in Mexico, as well, in 2017 and 2018. To date, Wembley Stadium has been the sole occupant of NFL games played abroad, but over the course of the next few years, matches will be played at Twickenham Stadium and Northumberland Stadium – both of which stand in the capital of the United Kingdom.
NFL abroad still feels to new to many, especially those of us who live in the UK. That said, whilst the NFL International Series remains relatively youthful as a project, it was not the first attempt by NFL officials to instil the game of American football in other areas of the world. Back in 1989, NFL Europe erupted – a professional American football league that took place all over Europe and was supported by the National football League. Unfortunately, Europe never truly embraced the concept, and the competition didn’t last.
Still, the NFL weren’t to be deterred. Instead of backing a separate competition, they decided to move a regular season game between the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers to Mexico in 2005. Funnily enough, this first out-of-country NFL fixture actually drew a record crowd for the competition – with 103,467 fans in attendance. This attendance record has since been broken (105,121 watched the New York Giants play the Dallas Cowboys in 2009), but it revealed that the NFL had huge potential for spreading its wings and that an audience for the game definitely existed outside of the United States – despite the ultimate failure of NFL Europe.
Two years later, the NFL International Series was launched. The first ever-official game took place on October 28th, 2007 and featured the New York Giants against the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium in the UK. There was a considerable amount of buzz around the match before kick-off, and from the moment ticket sales were officially opened, nearly half the stadium sold out in the space of an hour and a half. Those ticket sales doubled as kick-off edged closer, and the official crowd announced at Wembley Stadium turned out to be 81,176. The Giants went on to win the first UK-based regular season NFL game 13-10, making history in the process.
From that moment on, things would never be quite the same again. It proved that the NFL wanted to attract the attention of the British people, and the reaction they received was a welcome one. Apparently, UK sports fans were more than willing to embrace the NFL and turned up in droves to watch their first live NFL game. They’ve kept coming back ever since, with attendances actually on the up since the Giants beat the Dolphins in Game One nearly a decade ago.
It’s hard to believe that the NFL has been taking place in the United Kingdom for almost 10 years now. In that time, fourteen regular season NFL fixtures have kicked off in Britain – all at Wembley Stadium in London. You can find a full history of the British-based NFL International Series games below:
- New York Giants 13-10 Miami Dolphins – 28/10/07 – 81,176 – Wembley Stadium
- San Diego Charges 32-37 New Orleans Saints – 28/10/08 - 83,226 – Wembley Stadium
- New England Patriots 35-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 25/10/09 – 83,266 – Wembley Stadium
- Denver Broncos 16-24 San Francisco 49ers – 31/10/10 – 84,254 – Wembley Stadium
- Chicago Bears 24-18 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 23/10/11 – 83,941 – Wembley Stadium
- New England Patriots 45-7 St Louis Rams – 28/10/12 – 76,981 – Wembley Stadium
- Pittsburgh Steelers 27-34 Minnesota Vikings – 29/03/13 – 84,004 – Wembley Stadium
- San Francisco 49ers 42-10 Jacksonville Jaguars – 27/10/13 – 83,559 – Wembley Stadium
- Miami Dolphins 38-14 Oakland Raiders – 28/09/14 – 83,436 – Wembley Stadium
- Detroit Lions 22-21 Atlanta Falcons – 26/10/14 – 83,532 – Wembley Stadium
- Dallas Cowboys 31-17 Jacksonville Jaguars – 09/11/14 – 83,603 – Wembley Stadium
- New York Jets 27-14 Miami Dolphins – 04/10/15 – 83,986 – Wembley Stadium
- Buffalo Bills 31-34 Jacksonville Jaguars – 25/10/15 – 84,021 – Wembley Stadium
- Detroit Lions 10-45 Kansas City Chiefs – 01/11/15 – 83,624 – Wembley Stadium
The NFL on Regent Street
In 2013, the NFL attempted to enhance the match day experience for their UK-based fixtures by launching an event on Regent Street in London known as “NFL on Regent Street”. The plan was for the busy shopping streets to be pedestrianised and populated with fan zones, stalls, food stands, and NFL merchandise desks all set up in various locations. This pre-match event had proven enormously popular and still goes on to this day, with an incredible 600,000 people (estimated) descending upon Regent Street in 2015 – the fan festival’s third instalment.
Everything about NFL on Regent Street is strictly American, all set against a quintessentially British background. The atmosphere is electric with interactive games, musical performances, cheerleader dances, and celebrity appearances taking place at various at times and areas along Regent Road.
We’re still awaiting the official dates, times, and guest list for NFL on Regent Street 2016, but by casting your eye over some of the activities and events from last year you can begin to picture what this the 2016 NFL International Series celebrations will look like. In 2015, NFL on Regent Street featured:
- Ohio State University Marching Band
- NFL Lab: where ordinary folk squared off against NFL legends and current players
- Dances from the cheerleading team of Jacksonville Jaguars
- Stalls and shops selling a wide variety of NFL merchandise
- Live interviews with NFL legends
- Interactive NFL-themed games
- Promotional materials centred on the teams involved in the NFL International Series
Given how the 2016 edition of the NFL International Series is all set to be the most expansive and exciting yet, it would be fair to assume that NFL on Regent Street 2016 is likely to follow suit. Expect personnel from the Indianapolis Colts, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the New York Giants, the Los Angeles Rams, the Washington Redskins and the Cincinnati Bengals to be in appearance, as well as a wide variety of games, activities and merchandise all related to these teams.
More information on NFL on Regent Street 2016 will be posted here as soon as we have it. Make sure you keep checking back on a regular basis for important updates about what to expect at the biggest British celebration of America’s most beloved sport.
Upcoming UK NFL Fixtures
If you’re hoping to catch a live NFL game in the UK at some point – you still can. There are several fixtures scheduled for the latter half of 2016, and a clutch of additional matches pencilled in for 2017 too.
Here is the official list of upcoming NFL fixtures taking place in the United Kingdom over the course of 2016:
- Indianapolis Colts vs Jacksonville Jaguars – 02/10/16 –Wembley Stadium
- New York Giants vs Los Angeles Rams – 23/10/16 – Twickenham Stadium
- Washington Redskins vs Cincinnati Bengals – 30/10/16 – Wembley Stadium
As for 2017, three NFL fixtures have been confirmed. All we know so far is that at least one of these games will take place at Wembley Stadium and will feature the Jacksonville Jaguars. Another game (at a as of yet undecided venue) will also feature the Los Angeles Rams.
Tickets for the NFL games in the United Kingdom can be bought online at http://www.nfluk.com/tickets/.
Whilst season tickets and individual match tickets for all three fixtures for 2016 have sold out, there are a number of hospitality packages that remain available for purchase. These hospitality packages don’t come cheap (ranging anywhere between £300 and £500 per person depending on the type of package you select), but those who do purchase them will get to experience the NFL in all its glory – getting up close and personal with some of the biggest personalities the game has ever seen.
For the match held at Twickenham Stadium on 23 October, 2016 between the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Giants, the hospitality packages come in both Gold and Silver. The Gold Package costs £475 per person, and entitles ticket holders to a four-course NFL-themed “dining experience”, a drinks reception, an open bar, a gift bag, the opportunity to meet both cheerleaders and players, and also some of the best seats in the house. The cheaper Silver option costs £359 per person, and entitles ticket holders to a three-course buffet, an open bar, a match programme and some excellent stadium seats.
For the matches held at Wembley (Indianapolis Colts v Jacksonville Jaguars on 2nd October 2016; Washington Redskins v Cincinnati Bengals on 30th October 2016), packages come in Diamond and Sapphire. The Diamond package costs £449 per person, and entitles ticket holders to a three-course meal, an open bar, a champagne reception, the opportunity to meet cheerleaders and NFL legends, a match programme and a great seat by the players’ tunnel. The cheaper Sapphire option costs £339 per person, and entitles ticket holders to a buffet before the game, an open bar, a match programme and excellent seats on the Club Wembley tier.
Season tickets and match tickets can be bought second hand from the likes of eBay, but there is always the risk that you might be purchasing duplicate/fake tickets. In order to avoid disappointment, it is in your best interests to either splash out on a late hospitality package or reserve your ticket for the 2017 NFL UK fixtures in advance.