Gridiron in UK Has Long Way to Go

Honestly, I had an amazing weekend in London and with the Saints winning I think I probably speak for a lot of other Saints fans who also made the trip. But the purpose of the game, for the NFL at least, is not as much about pleasing American fans making the trip but more about spreading the great game of football to further markets and gaining new fans. I asked a lot of questions in my short time and first got the impression that football had no chance. That isn't fair though. Really, this is simply a young, fledgling project in its early stages of development. Of course that means there are a few areas that need improvement. Below are three of those areas that should definitely be addressed before next years event.


Take Care of the Team The idea of playing abroad is not going to last too long if teams become hesitant about participating in future events because they know it will be nothing more than hassle and distraction.

"It'd be hard for me to say it's a great experience, a great thing for your club, " said Payton, who said San Diego Coach Norv Turner experienced some of the same problems. "Logistically, I think it's hard to bring two teams over there and play a game during the regular season like this. The travel, the transportation, those aren't club issues, those are league issues. . . . I think they just have a lot of work to do to figure this thing out."

-Times-Pic

It's not just about the traveling either. After last years Mud Bowl we saw only little improvement in the field this year.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton said the quality of the field was poor and blamed it for the struggles endured by his defenders.

He said: "The footing was bad, the field was slick and choppy and generally it comes in favour of offences.

"After our run-through on Saturday we knew it would be a sloppy field regardless of whether it rained."

-BBC Sport

To be sure, Sean Payton has not been the leagues best ambassador so far this season and is becoming increasingly outspoken. Giving teams the bye week after the game is a good idea but it can't just stop there. You may never be able to completely control transportation issues and you certainly can't control time difference issues so I'm not sure what the answers are. Regardless, it might not be too long before coaches and owners start clashing over the possibility of playing a game abroad.


Promote Better While I was over there I was sure to get an idea of what the NFL was doing to get butts in the seats. I asked one of Adam's friends, an American who has lived in London for 4 years, what he thought of the promotion.

When they announced the game last year it was one of the most hyped-up events I've ever seen. I was really impressed with the promotion then. But then that game ended up being horrible, so the end result was a bit disappointing. This year there was far less promotion. All I ever saw were emails, and I only got those because I was on the list from last year.

Add to that a breakdown between ticket supplier and end users. I found this comment after an article an article from Britain's Times Online.

was there yesterday and really enjoyed it but thought the refs were a bit too officious - also I think the NFL have to look at selling the game better - I knew loads of people who wanted to go but whent on the nfl uk website it was impossible to get tix yet there were tons of empty seats

padraig foley, battersea, england

A few other people I spoke with expressed the same sentiment and apparently, if we are to believe Roger Goodell, it's valid.

Of more concern to the NFL will be the patches of empty seats amid a crowd of 80,000 in a stadium that could have been sold out "several times over", according to the league commissioner, Roger Goodell. However, that did not affect the enthusiastic atmosphere created by those in attendance.

-The Guardian

The blocks of empty seats most likely belonged to independent ticket brokers who bought them out but for whatever the reason, didn't sell them. That needs to be resolved and tickets need to be more readily available and at reasonable cost.


Start Youth Programs You probably noticed the many different NFL jerseys being worn by fans in the stands. Among the majority were Dolphins and Redskins jerseys. That's because they were younger when the NFL was more popular during the eighties. Sunday's game was their chance to break out their old jersey from the back of the closet; their chance to come out and enjoy the sport they love the way it was meant to be enjoyed.

NFL was first shown here on TV live in the mid '80s so the biggest support here is for teams which were good those 20 years ago - the Bears, 49ers, Redskins, Dolphins.

-MartP

Like most sports fans they all caught the football bug at a young age and that is exactly where the NFL needs to focus. Another American offered his opinion.

Much like everything else, start 'em young and that's where you'll have the most influence. I think the impact will be seen in another 10 years from the kids that saw the game. Much like how soccer in the states has moved to the forefront as a result of the 1994 World Cup, NFL in the UK (if they keep promoting it) will increase in popularity as a result. As far as immediate effects, it only benefits existing football fans living abroad or those in the states looking for an excuse to travel--which isn't a bad thing!

Believe it or not, football is not currently an obsession in England like it is stateside. Crazy, I know. They have their own sports like football (you know what I mean), cricket, and rugby. To create a culture of football the likes the NFL is surely trying to establish in England, with its deeply rooted history, is a monumental feat. Think about how hard it would be to get all of us to start watching cricket. Probably not happening. But what if cricket was always there? What if you grew up watching cricket? Whole different story. To really make this successful the NFL will have to change the culture and the best chance they have to do that is with younger generations. This also means another key is to really commit for the long haul. Results might not be evident for years. We know Europeans can be extremely passionate about sports so for the NFL, it's just a matter of transferring that passion.

Getting the NFL to gain popularity in the UK and other parts of Europe won't come overnight which is good because the NFL and NFLUK still have some learning and growing to do. In the meantime it should be enjoyed simply for what it is...a novelty.

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