Chicago and Tampa Bay played the 5th NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium in London yesterday. Chicago won the game 24-17, which was the first NFL game that did not sell out at Wembley.
The fact that it didn’t sell out questions whether this is going to be a continuing trend and if the popularity of American football in the UK has come to a stall. The NFL recently extended its contract through 2016; however,yesterday’s game only sold about 75,000 seats in a stadium with capacity of 82,000. If the NFL continues to match up different teams at this location, a declining attendance is in the forecast.
For the NFL to spark fan base growth in England, the league should schedule particular teams within certain regions in England (i.e. play Tampa Bay and New England in one region each year while playing Dallas and Chicago in another). This way, international fans can create relationships and an affinity with certain NFL teams and players. Continuing to expand the league is a great idea but the fans need to grow support for a small number of teams first. Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, said in a Q & A session with international fans in London:
“We want as many teams to come over. We want to see the more popular teams come over. … Should we focus on just a couple of teams as consistently coming back here to build a fan base around those teams? The Bucs are coming back now for a second time in a five-year period of time. And the idea is, will that allow them to build a fan base quicker?”
Continue to bring the same teams back, Roger. Also try to get the games televised at a time where they can see it in England and in the U.S. during a prime TV slot. The NFL will become a global brand but there are still large steps for the league to take before they get there.
(Photo by Steve Parkinson under a Creative Commons license)