SBD/Issue 36/Leagues & Governing Bodies

Enthusiastic Crowd Attends Broncos-49ers Game In London

NFL's Annual London Game Draws Festive
Crowd That Was Solidly Behind 49ers

London has "far from exhausted its appetite" for the NFL, as the atmosphere for yesterday's Broncos-49ers game at Wembley Stadium was "spine-tingling, of an intensity to make the average England football qualifier look like an extraordinarily well-attended garden party," according to Oliver Brown of the London TELEGRAPH. It was a "pity, then, that none of the early action could match the memorable preamble, illustrated by Michelle Williams' soaring version of Star-Spangled Banner" (London TELEGRAPH, 11/1). In London, Nick Szczepanik writes the game "drew as loud and passionate a crowd as the other three" games played at Wembley Stadium as part of the NFL International Series. Instead of the "novelty wearing off, the sense that if it's October, it must be the NFL at Wembley seems to be a welcome one to followers of all teams." The "number of replica shirts from the other 31 franchises proved that the game remains a rallying point for those who are hungry for any authentic NFL product." But Szczepanik notes while the game "played to a full house, the issue remains as to whether American football is growing its audience or preaching solely to the converted." Szczepanik: "How far the NFL is winning over new British hearts and minds remains to be seen" (LONDON TIMES, 11/1). The GUARDIAN's Paolo Bandini notes Wembley was "packed out with fans in replica jerseys who had paid anything up to" US$160 for a ticket. Approximately 38,000 fans also "attended the previous day's fan rally in Trafalgar Square." The 49ers won the game 24-16, and Bandini writes London "had been due an entertaining fixture." Giants-Dolphins in '07 "had been of shockingly low-quality," and last year's Patriots-Buccaneers matchup was a "lopsided blow-out." Only the Saints' 37-32 win over the Chargers in '08 "had provided entertainment to match the pre-game shows and tailgate parties that the NFL does so well" (GUARDIAN.co.uk, 11/1).

Wembley Stadium Crowd Seemed More
Knowledgeable Of NFL Than Past Years

FANS MORE FOOTBALL-SAVVY: In Sacramento, Matthew Barrows writes the 49ers and Broncos "found a much more NFL-savvy audience" than has attended the previous NFL games in London. 49ers fans "knew precisely when to get noisy, although they did it in a unique way -- booing when trying to rattle the Broncos offense at pivotal moments." 49ers RB Frank Gore: "Every time we made a big play, they were cheering for us. When the Broncos were on the offensive side of the ball, they were making a lot of noise" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 11/1). In London, Szczepanik notes the 49ers were the "home" team for the game, and their fans "were in the majority." The game "showed that the appetite in this country for live NFL regular-season games remains strong." News from other games "shown on the big screens revealed a myriad of allegiances" (London INDEPENDENT, 11/1). In Denver, Lindsay Jones wrote it was "clear the game was hardly a home match for the 49ers," because it "felt like the majority of fans at the stadium ... cheered just for the sake of cheering." Jones: "They were fans of offense and big hits on defense. They seemed to especially love field goals." Wembley officials "did an admirable job of piping in music and scoreboard segments ... to keep the international fans who may not be used to the American football game entertained" (DENVERPOST.com, 10/31). Jones today notes the NFL "threw a giant tailgate party outside Wembley Stadium" yesterday, marking the "first time the league opened the tailgate party to all ticket holders." In the past, fans "had to apply for a special pregame pass." Jones writes the fans "seemed to fully embrace" the tailgate. They started filing into the event "six hours before kickoff," and "wore jerseys, new and old" (DENVER POST, 11/1).

LONG-TERM PLAN: In Denver, Mike Klis reported NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Saturday in London held a Fan Forum that "drew 170 fans from 13 countries." Goodell said that the league's "next step internationally is to add at least a second regular-season game to London's schedule before deciding whether to deliver a franchise here" (DENVER POST, 10/31). CBS' Charley Casserly said, "Next year, there will be one game in London, and in 2012, there'll be two games " ("The NFL Today," CBS, 10/31). 49ers President & CEO Jed York Friday said that the league's "ultimate goal in its foreign ventures must be to have London-based franchise." York: "We need to figure out what is the end result. I think we are a ways away from that but I think when you sell out four games in a row do you start to bring more teams over here or bring more games? I think that is the next step but the ultimate goal is to have a franchise in London." REUTERS' Neil Maidment noted the NFL's "standing in England has been helped by its links between its teams" and EPL clubs. While York "does not want to buy a Premier League team, the link between the two sports is something York wants to tap into." He said, "We are just starting to put our toe in the water, reaching out to some of the (Premier League) clubs and just having conversations and seeing how they and us are running our businesses" (REUTERS, 10/29).

BEST WAY TO GROW: Goodell said that the league "distinguishes between 'casual' and 'avid' supporters," and that the International Series has "moved European fans from the first to latter category." The BBC's Bill Wilson noted Goodell hopes it will "lead to commercial success, with more purchases of NFL product, and also increased engagement with NFL media products" (BBC.co.uk, 10/29). Goodell acknowledged that it is "'painful' for teams to give up a home game," and added that is "one of the reasons the NFL is considering expanding its regular season schedule to 18 games." The AP's Mattias Karen wrote sending teams "so far to play in front of foreigners may seem extreme, but Goodell insists it's the best way to connect with international fans -- especially because most of them never have a chance to play the sport themselves." Goodell: "How do we promote a sport that is not played by the youth in each of those markets? But I think that's where media and bringing our game to those markets meets those challenges. We've seen it here in this marketplace, we've seen it in Japan, Mexico and Canada" (AP, 10/30). The DENVER POST's Jones noted from the NFL's perspective, the International Series is "better for promoting the league and growing an international fan base than the now-defunct NFL Europe." NFL VP/Int'l Business Chris Parsons said the league "ended up learning a lot" from NFL Europe, and "felt the reason that people were engaging with the NFL is they wanted to see our best product" (DENVER POST, 10/31).

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