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I’d take the success of the London Series games with a pinch of salt. The one game I went to, it felt like a sizeable chunk of the crowd were either American tourists or ex-pats.
There is a small, core following for the NFL in the UK, but for the most part, the game is way, way down the list of sporting interests. There’s no domestic game here, which doesn’t help, and any kids interested in the sport would almost certainly end up getting shoved down the Rugby route. I know there are British players in the NFL, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you their names – they’re not on the radar here.
Broadcasters do pick it up for TV, but the timezones mean that viewing figures tend to be relatively low. Sunday night games are on at 1–2am on a Monday morning. Only tbose extremely dedicated (or extremely unemployed) could contemplate watching live.
For the London Series, the game publicity machines are usually drowned out by the Premier League. In 2018, the first game fell on an international break weekend, in which the Premier League wasn’t playing. It was a rare opportunity to dominate the sporting narrative, but in truth, awareness was still pretty low; the BBC started to air the game live, but switched off after an hour and aired a documentary about Monkeys, or something like that.
The actual sport itself… I quite enjoy. I think the tactical side is underappreciated here. The common complaints (too stop-start, not enough actual play, too much changing,etc) are valid. Having played Rugby myself, I am quite circumspect about the whole padding thing; a Rugby tackle and an NFL ‘hit’ are very different things. Though I genuinely believe you’d see less serious injuries in the NFL if you dropped the armour. Sounds counterintuitive, but in Rugby, the lack of padding means you learn both how to tackle and how to be tackled in a way that minimises injury.
The Brits are generally uninterested in the pizzaz and showmanship which accompanies the US game; from cheerleaders to national anthems, to fighter jet fly-bys, this stuff typically draws scoffs from British viewers who see it as a bit ridiculous and just want to watch the sport. Nevertheless, Having seen NFL games live in the US too, I definitely think the experience works when you’re actually there.
I also think the NFL challenge flag system is really intriguing; a great way to lodge a complaint without stopping play. It’s something that could possibly be considered in Football.
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