American Football And A Very British Future

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It is fair to say that American football has gained more popularity in the UK than ever before. London -more specifically Wembley stadium- has encouraged the sport as an occasional spectacle, often with an average payment of £100 a head. Financially it is an extremely lucrative sport at the moment.

There can also be no doubt that audiences are on the rise. After all, it is worth bearing in mind that crowds are not arriving in their thousands to witness the equivalent of, let’s say, Arsenal versus Manchester United or indeed Chelsea facing Manchester City. The most poignant example I can give is that of the September encounter between Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders. A crowd of over 80,000 watched what could be described as the American footballing equivalent to Crystal Palace against West Brom. The fact that the NFL returned to UK in late October and early November resulted in around a total of 250,000 spectators and subsequently a figure of £25m in gate receipts.

It is currently difficult to think of another sport apart from our football- or soccer to those from across the pond- that would fulfil a Wembley capacity on three occasions in a short time period. Certainly not with sides whose reputation doesn’t feature in the upper echelons of their domestic leagues. Indeed, it is worth mentioning that increasingly it is the corporate sector and wealthy novices who are becoming hooked by the media circus surrounding the sport.

Back in 2007 there would be a lower attendance and very likely just one mid season clash here in the UK. Since then. progress has been not so much steady as a sharp incline. What does this mean for the near future? Well there are serious talks surrounding the founding of a London based outfit, who would in turn compete far more regularly than the showings currently on offer. For many it is more a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’ a London franchise will emerge from the increased accessibility of American football. Surely if anywhere in the UK could successfully boast a franchise it would be our capital city. Furthermore head offices of the NFL which are located in New York would likely find that if the current enterprise continues to flourish and snowball, then London is the eventual answer.

Southampton Stags have been at the forefront of sporting success in representing the game here at the university. The Stags narrowly missed out on victory in the South Coast league last year, racking up fourteen points compared to the winners Brighton, who collected sixteen. Belonging to a tier 1 division they sit alongside the likes of universities from all over the country: Glasgow, Newcastle, Leeds, Nottingham, Swansea and Brunel to name but a few. The increased cup matches alongside league rivalries has encouraged a strong American football presence on the university scene.

That is not to say it has become ingrained into mainstream sporting media, it is merely in the process of being shipped to more and more people. You are still unlikely to find many avid football/soccer fans who affiliate with a particular side or who can list an abundance of players of American Football. Not at all. However come five to ten years that may not be the case.

From what has been looked at, it is vital that for any sort of success, there needs to be success from the bottom up. That of course means support for lower tiers: a foundation always needs to be strong. Looking solely at the elite level, yes a London based team could play a block of say three matches at home, then move to the US for the same amount of time. However, smaller factors like whether players would be happy to spend weeks away from their families are worth considering. Would there need to be a salary cap for a team in the capital? Also there would clearly be tensions surrounding availability of Wembley in the autumn between the national side and an otherwise brand new invention. The furore surrounding the quality of the pitch would be a potential nightmare.

American football faces difficulties and it hasn’t yet stamped total authority over here. That said it isn’t hard to see why it could, and in the mega rich world of sport, solutions are more than often found.

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