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Television host Vernon Kay is often asked why, if his looks are so critical, he risks facial injury playing amateur football.
Most Americans, weaned on the sport, might sympathize with his refusal to punt his pigskin passion. Kay, however, is English, a United Kingdom media celebrity, a defensive back for the London Warriors of the British American Football Association league, and a Johnny Appleseed of sorts for the NFL who owns 32 team caps.
“People always say to me, ‘Do you not worry that you will get injured,’ because you see, I host ‘Family Feud,’ ” said Kay, 40, seated earlier this summer in his favorite London pub where he watches NFL games, a World Cup match distracting above the bar.
To grasp just how striking the NFL’s U.K. strategy is, with a healthy chance London gets a team before Los Angeles, consider the cultural confoundment Kay creates pulling on shoulder pads. American football, while growing in the U.K., is hardly native to British soil. (Some joke it’s one of the few sports the English don’t claim to have invented.) Kay’s family and friends, he said, called him weird in his youth for throwing a football around, and not much has changed in the years since: Secondary schools do not offer American football.
Pregame ceremonies get underway at Wembley Stadium prior to last year’s game between Jacksonville and San Francisco.
Photo by:Getty Images
But the NFL is brashly challenging the paradigm that people must either have played a sport, or know those who have, to follow and engage in the action. In 2002, a quarter-million English watched the Super Bowl. Last year, following a decade of NFL marketing investment, the number sniffed 4 million for a game that starts locally at 11:30 p.m.
This fall, for the first time, the league will play three regular-season games in London, with the Jacksonville Jaguars slated to contest one of their eight home games annually in London through 2016.
Surely, some of the interest in London comes from expats and Brits who lived in the States, but they make up only one-quarter of U.K. NFL fans, according to research conducted for SportsBusiness Journal by Turnkey Intelligence (see survey highlights).
The NFL needs native Brits if it’s to win this international gamble. And the stakes are high. Dominant in the U.S. sports market, the NFL envisions international, and the U.K. in particular, as its next big growth area.
Talk is rampant in league circles that the number of London games will increase again in 2015, with a permanent team not far behind, making the NFL the first major league to expand overseas.
“It’s a question of time before we see real globalization of the biggest leagues,” said Yanni Andreopoulos, director of AEG Sports Europe in London, considering the prospects of intercontinental league. “Whoever cracks it and makes it happen will be in a great position.”
Circus or true fans?
There’s little debating that the eight NFL games played since 2007 at the modern Wembley Stadium have been game-day successes — smashing, as they say in London. The games have sold out the stadium’s 84,000 seats in days. The atmosphere has been festive, and a promotion last year that featured a football carnival on the busy thoroughfare Regent Street attracted half a million people and even won an award from a local sports business group.
“I have been involved in U.K. [soccer] for 25 years and I have never experienced such a well-run event,” said Terry Byrne, David Beckham’s former agent and a soccer marketer, of the NFL International Series games, as the Wembley contests are known. “It was a very slick, well-organized operation.”
Similar accolades echo throughout London — notwithstanding whether the person has a positive or negative stance
As part of the International Series, London shuts down Regent Street for an NFL block party.
Photo by:USA Today Sports
“People don’t want to stand anymore in a freezing terrace battered by the elements and have a lousy E. coli burger,” said Nick Wright, a British pollster with Luntz Global, the American firm helmed by political and cultural opinion leader Frank Luntz.
The NFL, featuring pregame and halftime shows, cheerleaders, and the entertainment mix the league excels at, is now part of the must-attend British sporting calendar, alongside brands like Ascot and Wimbledon.
The question often asked in London, based on interviews with more than two dozen opinion leaders and insiders, is whether the NFL’s Wembley attendees are going for football or for spectacle? And, if the NFL is a spectacle, can the league find the fan passion necessary to support a team?
“The NFL feels like kind of a novelty act,” said Carsten Thode, director of consulting at Synergy Sponsorship, a British sports marketing firm. “It is a little bit manufactured. Not to say that is a bad thing; they need to manufacture it.
“Look at the guys sponsoring the NFL at the moment. It is Visa, Pepsi Max, Budweiser — the story is the same,” he continued. “It is kind of American brands spreading American culture, spreading the American lifestyle.”
When Synergy asks U.K. and European companies about the NFL, Thode said the response is, “It is too niche and too American.”
“Stuff needs to happen first before it becomes something that European brands see as a powerful opportunity to connect to their audience,” he said.
Even Kay wonders why the NFL often markets the game on the backs of cheerleaders, urging the league to bring more players over for promotional appearances.
“We see it as those crazy Americans,” Kay said, laughing in his telling of when cheerleaders arrive. “There are the dancing girls.”
Betting on the future
If there is a U.K. pied piper for the NFL, it’s Alistair Kirkwood, an amiable Englishman who manages the NFL’s 15-person London office.
In 1998, he graduated from college in the Netherlands and sent a letter to then-head of NFL International Bill Peterson, who currently runs the North American Soccer League. Kirkwood wrote about all the ways the NFL botched its European push and why the league should hire him.
Team-branded scarves are sold in a nod to London’s soccer culture.
Photo by:Getty Images
Kirkwood arrived at a time when the U.K.’s best days embracing American football seemed finished. The NFL enjoyed a brief England heyday in the mid-1980s, when an upstart broadcast channel, 4, carried the sport to distinguish itself. Interest boomed, and the league expanded to London through the World League of American Football, the defunct NFL Europe’s predecessor. Many of today’s middle-age U.K. fans got their first taste of the sport and never lost it. Interest, though, quickly waned. Channel 4 dropped the sport, and the NFL pulled back.
What the NFL spent overseas it sprinkled ineffectively over the money-losing European league, which the NFL mercifully euthanized in 2007.
Meanwhile, soccer, beset by fan tragedies and disharmony in the 1980s, got its act together with the formation of the English Premier League in 1991. By the time the NFL hired Kirkwood to work in London in the late 1990s, the league’s focus lay elsewhere. To suggest then that a decade and half later the league could locate a team in the country would undoubtedly have been treated as sheer lunacy.
Kirkwood, as it turned out, needed to gamble his employment to get the NFL’s attention.
In 2002, he sat in New York NFL headquarters across a conference room table from then-Chief Operating Officer Roger Goodell, who four years later ascended to commissioner. Kirkwood wanted to recapture the enthusiasm of the 1980s and flew to New York to press the case for more investment from the mothership. The immediate goal was to increase the Super Bowl’s slim quarter-million viewership.
Key people behind the NFL's London strategy
Roger MaslinManaging director, Wembley Stadium
The former pathologist is the point person at the stadium for the NFL and will be in the thick of talks to keep the league going back to the north London venue once the current deal expires in three years.
Roger GoodellNFL commissioner
Perhaps there is no greater champion of the NFL's London push than the commissioner. He understands that if the league is to get to his goal of $25 billion in revenue by 2027, the U.K. needs to play a role.
Eric GrubmanNFL executive vice president
Grubman is the league official in charge of scouting potential new stadium sites in London, and negotiating with Wembley.
David SullivanMajority owner, West Ham United FC
Sullivan's English Premier League club is moving into the Olympic Stadium in 2016. The NFL already has had talks about sharing the stadium after 2016.
Shahid KhanOwner, Jacksonville Jaguars
Khan signed the deal for his Jaguars to play a single home game annually for four years in London through 2016. Whether his team relocates or not, the Jags' experiences in London could go a long way in determining the NFL's fate in the city. Khan also owns the EPL's Fulham FC.
Robert KraftOwner, New England Patriots
Kraft is perhaps the most influential NFL owner and a proponent of a team in London. He would play a key role in rallying support among other owners.
-— Compiled by Daniel Kaplan
“Roger asked a few questions about what the metrics would be for success,” Kirkwood recalled of the meeting, which may well be remembered for launching a U.K. franchise. “I said, ‘A million viewers.’ When I asked him about this anecdote three years ago, he didn’t recall it — probably because he’s done this type of thing plenty of times before.
“At the end of the [slide] deck, and there are 12 other people in the room, he turned around and said, ‘Do you really believe in this?’” Kirkwood recounted. “And I said, ‘Yeah, passionately.’ ‘So if it doesn’t work out, you don’t hit your metric, would you resign?’ There is only one answer to that. ‘Of course I would.’ And he goes, ‘OK, go ahead and do it.’ He walks out of the room, and I am going, ‘What’s my metric? What are my chances of getting this done?’”
The official Super Bowl U.K. viewing number in 2003, aided by new broadcast coverage, topped the 1 million target by 34,000 viewers. Kirkwood figured the number, because of the small viewer sample size, could have formally fallen below 1 million with but a handful of fewer TV sets tuned to the game.
“My guess is if we hadn’t met the metric we wouldn’t have gone any further,” he said.
Three million avid NFL U.K. fans?
To get permission to drive a taxi in London, drivers are required to learn upward of 25,000 street names. That’s hardly surprising to anyone who has wandered the moniker-strewn streets, each name seemingly signifying centuries of history — and none of which is remotely connected to American football.
The NFL’s stepped-up production at Wembley Stadium also includes musical acts.
Photo by:Getty Images
The league, citing polling and research conducted out of New York, estimated that the number of avid fans has risen 200 percent since 2009, and pegged the number of casual fans at 14 million, which is 22 percent of the U.K.’s population.
Those figures are not without doubters.
“I would say there are 3 million rugby fans in the U.K. The NFL: I would doubt it is close to half a million,” said British music magnate Chris Wright, who founded Chrysalis Records and once owned teams in the English Premier League and local rugby and basketball leagues.
Added Steve Martin, global CEO of M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, “The 3 million figure is an awful lot. There are 60 million people here; 3 million is pretty high.”
There is certainly an avid core, culled from the 1980s and the NFL’s latest push. And people are watching. Sky’s broadcast of NFL games Sunday evenings, which constitute about 5 percent of its total programming, usually top the ratings for those hours, averaging about 600,000 viewers.
“Personally, where I live, there are more fans of the NFL than tennis or cricket,” said Jozef Vincent, 32, who runs the Jaguars’ U.K. fan organization from his home in a small town in Wales, several hours outside of London. “I get approached by new fans all the time who want to know how the NFL works. It’s different with free agency and the draft process, which is alien to our sports.”
According to sports evaluation and polling firm Repucom, Vincent’s experiences are not uncommon. Five percent of the respondents to a May 2014 U.K. Repucom poll said they are very interested in the NFL. That mark is equivalent to the percentage the NFL contends are avid fans.
NFL growth is slowing, however, according to Repucom, whose poll size is 1,000 people. The “very interested” figure has remained constant since Repucom in May 2012 began polling interest in the NFL, and the respondents who report they are not interested or have no awareness of the NFL has increased over the past the two years, from 60 percent to 63 percent, according to Repucom.
The NFL’s Kirkwood has heard all this before and is unconcerned. In two or three years, he expects the number of avid fans to grow 50 percent, to 4.5 million, the threshold the NFL considers necessary to ready the next big move in the country.
“Then we are in a state,” he said, “where we have got some interesting options.”
Sizing up loyalties among fans
Presuming 3 million is the number of avid U.K. fans, is the NFL wrong nonetheless to use that as a metric for deciding whether to bring a team?
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones last year in an interview with SportsBusiness Journal predicted a franchise in London within five years, saying, “It is logical to think once you establish a team there you will get that most important part, to me [of sport] … a little syndrome called, My Town Beating Your Town. My city one-upping your city. At the end of the day, when we play the Giants or we play Washington, that is Dallas against New York, or Dallas against Washington.
“London can catch on and want to see London beating the Giants. That is the ingredient there,” he said.
But that assessment doesn’t square with the established culture of British sports, where annually up to half the EPL teams are in London, and none has London in its name. The biggest game of the year in Manchester is when the two local EPL teams square off, not with a London entry. The British in fact have their own term, derby (pronounced “darby”) to describe a game between intracity rivals.
Wright, the music executive, described as his biggest regret in owning the London Sharks of the British Basketball League the decision he made to insert the city name into the club’s moniker.
“There has always been a problem with having a London anything,” he said. “People in London don’t gravitate toward supporting a team because it is a London team.”
There is another problem for the NFL if fans are to root for a London franchise: Avid U.K. American football adherents root for existing teams. Their loyalties are claimed.
“Everyone’s picked their teams already,” said Shaun White, a Denver Broncos fan and Londoner who is also head of European marketing for Electronic Arts. “Will people associate with a London team, or will they stick with those they have supported throughout the years? Or will it be mixed?”
One of the more unusual aspects of the Wembley games is that all 32 team jerseys are represented in the stands, with fans of every team at the contest.
“It’s bizarre,” said Synergy’s Thode, a Bears fan who lived in Chicago during the team’s mid-1980s heyday.
It could take a decade from placing a team in London to creating a true NFL team following, Thode predicted. “The NFL,” he said, “has to be realistic.”
When Aden Durde, a Middlesex, U.K., native, played for the Hamburg club of the old NFL Europe in 2006, an American teammate at the season’s close told him he was off to rent a car. Laughing hard at the memory, Durde recalled he asked his teammate, whom he wouldn’t identify, why. The teammate responded, “I am driving home.”
Speaking from Dallas Cowboys training camp in Oxnard, Calif., where he interned as a defensive back coach for the summer, Durde said he broke the news softy to his burly friend that there is an ocean in the way.
If the NFL is going to overcome the obvious cultural dissonance between its unique place in America and the U.K., men like Durde should help. He coaches the amateur London Warriors and is eager to become the first Englishman to coach in the NFL. If he were to succeed, he could serve as an inspiration for British youth, who might in turn follow a team.
Durde and his friend Kay, the TV host, hammer at the point that the NFL must do more to invest in the game at the lower levels. Kay sent the NFL a proposal to develop a youth academy, the kind individual soccer teams manage throughout Europe.
“They come, they pitch the tent, we buy the tickets, we buy the shirts, we drink the Budweiser, we consume everything that surrounds the NFL,” Kay said. “Mine is not an issue. I would like to see some grassroots investment by the NFL.”
There is progress. The game is now played at 75 universities. Equipment sales are rising, though still only through specialty retailers and not in traditional sporting goods stores. And the NFL has invested a bit in grassroots, with the Jaguars doing their part as well.
But the NFL is geared to promote the NFL and not necessarily youth football. The league hypes the games and offseason player and cheerleader appearances, which promote the league and the team brands.
“We are not there to govern the sport. We are there to grow the NFL,” said Chris Parsons, the former NFL senior vice president of international, speaking shortly before he left his post this summer.
Investment in grassroots would send the message that the NFL is serious this time, said Martin, the M&C Saatchi CEO. The NFL jumped ship after the 1980s and then folded NFL Europe, he recounted.
“Is this a publicity stunt to build a licensing platform, or is there a long-term grassroots approach?” he asked. “People aren’t stupid here. They don’t forget.”
The NFL has other hurdles. Soccer is a compact, 90-minute game with a 15-minute intermission, consuming maybe three hours of someone’s day. NFL fans often spend two to three times that with their team on game day. The stop and start of the NFL game is also foreign to the continuous play of most U.K. sports.
Of course, that is a chance to market and sell, said Alastair Campbell, a political consultant and a former adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair.
“[Low] level of knowledge and experience is an opportunity,” he said. “One of the things that is changing in sports is people love data and facts, and to chew over things that are happening in the game.”
Laura Oakes knows the NFL will never overcome soccer. The Jaguars’ U.K. sponsorship director, who worked in traditional British sports ranging from cricket and horse racing before the Jags hired her last year, is sure of one thing: While the NFL today is likely a top-six or -seven sport, trailing Formula One, rugby, cricket and golf, that pyramid is already inverting.
Seated in a coffee shop across the street from the NFL’s U.K. office, just around the corner from where the league shut down Regent Street for its fan fest, an unprecedented action in London for such an event, Oakes spoke with an unmistakable air of confidence.
“We won’t win the war against soccer,” she said, “but we will against every other sport.”
What they're saying
Eric Baker, CEO of Viagogo: “Could you put a local team in London and sell out eight games? They may be able to do that. … In the U.K., American football is much more popular than basketball ....”
Alastair Campbell, political consultant, former adviser to Tony Blair: “The fan base is obviously there, they are through the door, the interest is there. … I think it would work.”
Nick Wright, Luntz Global: “It lacks a figurehead, a personality at the moment. It is ‘American football,’ and as long as you call it that you are always on the back foot.”
Jozef Vincent, president of Union Jax boosters club: “I would rather see different teams play here rather than a [permanent team]. The NFL fan base is not just a London fan base.”
Steve Martin, CEO, M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment: “The smart play would be six to eight games featuring different teams.”
Alistair Kirkwood, managing director, NFL UK: “This is a long journey. This is a game that hasn’t been played as an individual sport … for the most part it is not an Englishman’s sport. It is an incredibly competitive sports landscape, and if you are trying to get a share of the hearts and minds, you have to come in with a sense of credibility and a sense of being very fan friendly.”
Carsten Thode, director of consulting, Synergy Sponsorship: “If there is a London team, it wouldn’t have a massive fan base to start with. Even if 3 million fans love the NFL, they love other teams.”
Yanni Andreopoulos, head of AEG Sports Europe: “Wembley can be a tough sell. The reality is no one would touch Wembley unless it was a really big event. The fact the NFL went in there and has been selling out every year since they went in there, that is impressive. Especially starting from a position of obscurity. You don’t even get 80,000 at Wembley for all of England [national soccer] games.”
Chris Wright, founder of music company Chrysalis and former U.K. sports team owner: “When you get outside of the U.S. you are living in a one-dimensional sports world. Maybe not so in every country, but in England if you pick up a tabloid paper, the first eight pages are soccer. … You need to develop superstars more. NFL players are not always the most interesting people; they can be very vanilla. The quarterback for the Denver Broncos is pretty boring. He is not very interesting, yet the Super Bowl was all about him. He was not going to make some young kid say, ‘Hey, I want to grow up to be Peyton Manning.’”
Fredda Hurwitz, global vice president, strategic planning, marketing and communication, Havas Sports & Entertainment: “Having a franchise is a statement, a statement of intent, ‘We are not going anywhere.’ People aren’t going to say no to that.”
Chris Kermode, ATP Tour president: “At the moment the NFL games have been hugely supported, so successful, but people are going for a sports event, and the demand for sport events is huge. But they are one-off events. But in terms of engaging with a nation to buy into a sport, it is a long-term project.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (Sky Sports interview, July 29): “There were skeptics [in 2007 when the first regular-season game was played] even among our teams. Is this a novelty or is this really passionate support? And what we have proven is this is really passionate support. … It is realistic to think a franchise could be here.”
— Compiled by Daniel Kaplan
Wembley Stadium has hosted every NFL London regular-season game since the league started playing them in 2007, and is under contract to host through 2016.
However, there is no assurance the league will continue playing games there afterward, especially if the NFL dramatically increases the number of London games, or places a team in the city. NFL owners first need to extend their agreement to play London games past 2016.
“Clearly Wembley gives us some great options,” Chris Parsons, former NFL senior vice president of international, said shortly before he resigned last month. “At the same time Wembley also has England [soccer] games going on during the weeks we play. That is a challenge for us if we want to play more games, how we actually fit into the schedule.”
Twickenham (top), Cardiff City (center) and Olympic stadiums could be alternative sites for NFL games if a scheduling conflict arises at Wembley.Please enter image description here.
Photos by:Getty Images
Worries about such scheduling conflicts is partly why the league is having talks with other stadiums, including the Olympic Stadium, which English Premier League club West Ham will move into in 2016.
Wembley has all the accoutrements the NFL likes, such as wide concourses, suites, digital signage, giant video boards, and large locker rooms. The games sell out, and hospitality does well.
“NFL games have a good demand across all ticketing including hospitality,” said Chester King, CEO of Stoke Park, which manages the Bobby Moore Club at Wembley.
Hospitality packages for the upcoming International Series games are starting on Ticketmaster for $561, compared to a recent FA Cup final of $1,150, King said.
Whether such strong demand for the NFL can be sustained over a full regular-season home slate of eight games, or even just more than the three that will be played in the next two months, is a big unknown. Wembley has 90,000 seats (84,000 for NFL games), which would make it one of the largest stadiums in the NFL.
Alistair Kirkwood, the bullish managing director of NFL UK, is not concerned.
“I don’t think Wembley is too big, because this is a massive market, and I don’t think we have even scratched the surface of demand that could be out there,” he said. “It is viewed as the national stadium, but it is not in an ideal [location].”
Wembley is in far north London, about a 45-minute tube ride from the city center, which is not a big problem unless you imagine tens of thousands of fans crammed into the London Underground’s rather narrow tube cars for that amount of time.
Others have floated working with Tottenham Hotspur FC, which is building a new London stadium, and even Cardiff in Wales, which boasts a modern stadium.
“The longer-term solution is sharing with an EPL team,” said Grant Cornwall, chief executive of the Tottenham Hotspur’s foundation. Tottenham has said publicly it is not talking with the NFL.
Others wonder if the tribalism of EPL fans would hurt the NFL at a soccer stadium.
“If you played at Chelsea, you wouldn’t get Arsenal fans to come,” predicted Terry Byrne, a soccer marketer who once represented David Beckham.
Money, that's what I want
Comparing the costs of attending NFL games and Premier League matches during the 2013 season
National Football League
Team Name Avg. Ticket Avg. prem. Ticket Soft Drink Hot Dog Event Program Arizona Cardinals* $79.56 $258.20 $3.50 $3.50 $3.00 Atlanta Falcons $83.71 $249.60 $6.50 $5.50 $0.00 Baltimore Ravens $100.19 $258.94 $7.50 $5.00 $0.00 Buffalo Bills $57.75 $201.68 $5.00 $5.50 $0.00 Carolina Panthers $66.84 $263.50 $3.00 $3.50 $0.00 Chicago Bears $103.60 $312.15 $5.00 $5.00 $5.00 Cincinnati Bengals $68.96 $195.03 $5.00 $4.75 $5.00 Cleveland Browns $54.20 $205.02 $4.25 $4.75 $3.00 Dallas Cowboys $110.20 $340.00 $5.00 $5.50 $10.00 Denver Broncos* $84.27 $293.56 $4.50 $5.00 $0.00 Detroit Lions* $67.60 $142.98 $5.00 $6.00 $0.00 Green Bay Packers $82.61 $249.65 $4.25 $5.50 $6.00 Houston Texans* $88.98 $260.17 $3.25 $5.00 $5.00 Indianapolis Colts $86.32 $164.00 $5.50 $5.25 $0.00 Jacksonville Jaguars $68.44 $232.09 $4.00 $5.00 $0.00 Kansas City Chiefs $64.92 $213.27 $4.50 $5.50 $0.00 Miami Dolphins* $71.14 $200.00 $4.00 $5.00 $5.00 Minnesota Vikings $78.69 $179.51 $4.50 $5.75 $5.00 New England Patriots* $117.84 $566.67 $4.00 $3.75 $5.00 New Orleans Saints* $74.99 $177.61 $4.50 $4.50 $5.00 New York Giants $111.69 $464.75 $3.00 $6.00 $5.00 New York Jets $110.28 $355.94 $3.00 $6.00 $10.00 Oakland Raiders* $64.80 $138.93 $4.50 $5.00 $5.00 Philadelphia Eagles $93.01 $210.15 $3.75 $5.00 $5.00 Pittsburgh Steelers $81.13 $230.68 $4.75 $4.75 $5.00 San Diego Chargers* $84.55 $170.00 $5.75 $6.00 $5.00 San Francisco 49ers $83.54 $275.00 $3.00 $5.50 $5.00 Seattle Seahawks $71.21 $171.41 $4.50 $5.75 $3.00 St. Louis Rams $74.49 $188.04 $5.00 $4.25 $5.00 Tampa Bay Buccaneers $63.59 $222.31 $4.25 $4.75 $0.00 Tennessee Titans $65.28 $165.08 $4.00 $4.00 $5.00 Washington Redskins* $94.80 $375.32 $5.00 $6.00 $5.00 NFL AVERAGE $81.54 $247.85 $4.48 $5.07 $3.71
Barclays Premier League
Team Most expensive Match-Day Ticket Cheapest Match-Day Ticket Tea Pie Program Arsenal $166.59 $34.38 $2.64 $4.63 $4.63 Aston Villa $55.53 $30.41 $2.78 $4.36 $3.97 Cardiff $52.89 $26.44 $2.25 $4.50 $3.97 Chelsea $115.03 $47.60 $2.91 $5.02 $3.97 Crystal Palace $59.50 $33.05 $2.91 $5.29 $4.63 Everton $59.50 $42.31 $2.91 $3.97 $3.97 Fulham $99.16 $33.05 $2.51 $4.63 $4.63 Hull $46.28 $29.09 $2.64 $3.97 $3.97 Liverpool $68.75 $50.24 $3.17 $4.23 $3.97 Manchester City $76.69 $26.44 $2.38 $5.02 $3.97 Manchester United $70.07 $40.99 $3.31 $4.36 $3.97 Newcastle $68.75 $19.83 $2.91 $3.97 $3.97 Norwich $66.11 $26.44 $2.78 $4.63 $4.63 Southampton $66.11 $39.66 $2.64 $4.63 $3.97 Stoke $66.11 $33.05 $2.78 $3.70 $4.63 Sunderland $52.89 $33.05 $2.91 $3.83 $3.97 Swansea $59.50 $46.28 $2.64 $4.23 $3.97 Tottenham $107.09 $42.31 $2.64 $4.63 $4.63 West Brom $51.56 $33.05 $2.38 $3.83 $3.97 West Ham $88.58 $48.92 $2.64 $4.23 $4.63
Notes: Average ticket price represents a weighted average of season-ticket prices for general seating categories, determined by factoring the tickets in each price range as a percentage of the total number of seats in each stadium. Premium seating (tickets that come with at least one added amenity) are not included in the ticket average. Luxury suites are excluded from the survey.
*Prices for team were taken from team website and/or media reports, along with past Team Marketing Report research. Averages were calculated by Team Marketing Report.
1 Euro = $1.32, per conversion on XE.com on Sept. 1, 2013
Sources: September 2013 Team Marketing Report and 2013 BBC Price of Football study
Ticket to ride
For the three NFL International Series games this season at Wembley Stadium in London, ticket prices range from just under $24 (children 16 and younger) to almost $140 for a lower sideline seat, while a club ticket sells for $146 and hospitality tickets start at $437.
Ticket Category Price Children's ticket (16 and younger) $23.28 Upper end zone $49.88 Upper sideline (rows 21+) $59.85 Lower end zone $86.45 Upper sideline (rows 1-20) $93.10 Lower sideline $139.65 Club $146.30 Premium club $198.17 Hospitality From $437.57 Thomson Sport hotel + ticket From $304.57
Note: 1 Euro = $1.33, per conversion on XE.com on Aug. 20, 2014.
The NFL would confront a host of logistical challenges fielding a franchise in London. Some are obvious, like travel times and scheduling. But there are other, more subtle considerations, as well.
“What about Tuesdays during the season when coaches and personnel people are bringing in people? There is no way you are bringing a free agent from California to London,” said former Oakland Raiders President Amy Trask.
Steve Mariucci, the former San Francisco 49ers head coach, overhearing Trask’s comment during last month’s CBS Sports football media gathering, offered that the team could have a presence in the United States to conduct business.
“But the head coach still does not get to meet the free agent,” Trask responded.
The NFL might try to tweak some of its rules to account for the time difference and geography of a London team.
As for other moves, chances are a London team would play its preseason games and stage training camp in the United States, Mariucci said. As more teams share training camp days with other squads, he said, a London team would need to be in the United States to do so.
When it comes to regular-season scheduling, a London team would likely call for an unorthodox slate of games.
NFL teams generally do not have more than two consecutive road games.
“If you have eight home games, maybe you have three road games in a row,” said Boomer Esiason, the former player and current commentator/analyst.
Many point out that there are already significant travel times in the league, such as Miami to Seattle, that equal or exceed an East Coast trip to London. Non-East Coast teams would have a longer trip, though, and the time difference of those trips would mean worse jet lag.
There also is the issue of what division a London team would reside in. If the Jacksonville Jaguars (hypothetically) were to move to London, their divisional rivals are in the middle of the country: Tennessee, Indianapolis and Houston. That would appear unfair to make those three teams travel to London annually.
When scheduling home games in London, would all games start Sundays at 6 p.m. local time, which is 1 p.m. on the East Coast? Sunday, Monday and Thursday night home games (on a U.S. clock) would appear out of the question, as those games would have to start in the middle of the night in London to match up with U.S. prime time.
The extension of that is that all home games for the London team would seemingly be ineligible for Sunday night flex scheduling, when attractive pairings are shifted into NBC’s evening slot. That’s important in that players considering London as a free agent destination would be disappointed to learn they’d have fewer chances to play on a prime-time stage.
As the NFL has increased its presence in London, it has also attracted more corporate support.
Go back five years to 2009, and the league had only seven partners for its single London game. Fast forward and the International Series now counts 21 brands across 18 companies in its sponsorship roster for this year’s three games at Wembley Stadium.
Ion is the most recent company to sign on as a partner. The deal is expected to be officially announced early this month and will make the company the official action camera partner of the NFL International Series.
The London games are the only ones on the NFL schedule that feature sideline LED boards.
Photo by:Getty Images
The league broadly divides its U.K. partners into three tiers — cornerstone, associate and local — though it tries to customize deals for specific partners. The deals are typically separate from the league’s primary U.S.-based sponsorships, although those partners are offered “first dibs” on international activities.
Reeves said that depending on the scope, deals range from mid-six figure amounts to the low seven figures. He said the league will announce a few more sponsorships before the first game at Wembley between the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders on Sept. 28.
The NFL hosted its first regular-season game in London in 2007 and the league’s commitment to the U.K. market, along with increased media coverage, has led to an influx in interest from existing and potential partners, Reeves said.
“We’ve gone from a point where we were playing one game and it was a little bit like the circus comes to town, where we came and there was a big event for a week or so but then we went away, to really stretching out and having seasonlong activity that’s held together by three games this year that are all sold out.”
The London games offer some unique features for advertisers. They are the only ones on the NFL schedule that feature sideline LED boards. The use of LED boards goes against the NFL’s mantra of a “clean venue” that only features brands that are endemic to the game. Reeves described this anomaly as an ode to the fact that LED boards are typical in the U.K. and they also help to differentiate the NFL games.
One of the companies that will be taking full advantage of the LED boards is Visa.
“On the broadcasts you’ll see a lot more branding than you see in a regular match,” said Ricardo Fort, Visa’s senior
Microsoft, one of the NFL’s global partners, has not yet finalized its marketing and activation plans for the U.K. “We sort of follow the lead of the NFL for the international markets,” said Jeff Tran, director of sports and marketing alliances at Microsoft. “We are looking to see how we best fit into their overall push behind the NFL London games.”
He said Microsoft will make use of the NFL’s different guidelines around sponsorships in the U.K. and will focus its marketing on the company’s Surface and Xbox One brands.
In comparison to regular-season games in the U.S., the league is putting more resources behind the U.K. games.
Reeves compared the London games to a Super Bowl in terms of production. Those production elements include pregame performances such as musical acts as well as fan events in the heart of London and at Wembley Stadium.
The fan events and performances provide the league with another opportunity to bring in partners, Reeves said.
In addition, league owners loosened the NFL’s marketing regulations and allow U.K. partners to talk about the NFL and American football in connection with other sports.
A company that will take advantage of this new opportunity is Nike. While the NFL’s official uniform supplier declined to provide specifics, it is expected that the company will create a “football meets football”-type campaign, highlighting its affiliation with American football and soccer.
Aon, another NFL partner, will use its affiliation with Manchester United for cross-promotional events.
“We have quite a following and quite a presence and exposure through our Manchester United partnership, and so we use that to kind of build and complement what we are doing with the NFL here in the U.K.,” said Patrick Pierce, Aon’s sponsorship and marketing director. “You see a lot of English Premier League owner groups that also have ties to the NFL and vice versa.”
HJ Mai is senior writer at SportsBusiness Daily Global.
Aug. 16, 1976
■ The Mainichi Star Bowl, the first NFL game played outside of North America, is held in Tokyo, Japan.
■ Wembley Stadium in London hosts the NFL’s first game played in Europe.
■ Wembley hosts the first American Bowl, a series of international preseason games played annually until 2005.
■ Thirteen preseason games are played in Japan. The 2002 Washington Redskins-San Francisco 49ers matchup was played at the Osaka Dome, while the remaining 12 games were played at the Tokyo Dome.
■ Berlin’s Olympiastadion hosts a preseason game annually for five years.
■ The 10-team World League of American Football launches. The Barcelona Dragons, Frankfurt Galaxy and London Monarchs make up the European contingent, while the remaining seven clubs are based in North America.
■ Barcelona’s Estadi Olímpic hosts an annual preseason game.
■ The WLAF does not play any games during this time.
■ The NFL and Fox announce plans to form a joint venture to relaunch a six-team World League to begin play in Europe in April 1995.
■ Mexico hosts six preseason games during this span. The 1996 game was played in Monterrey, while the remaining were staged in Mexico City.
■ The WLAF resumes, adding the Amsterdam Admirals, Rhein Fire and Scottish Claymores to the returning three European clubs.
■ The Pittsburgh Steelers defeat the Chicago Bears at Croke Park in Dublin. Steelers owner Dan Rooney would go on to become the U.S. ambassador to Ireland in 2009.
Pete Stoyanovich of the Kansas City Chiefs kicks off to start a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers at Japan’s Tokyo Dome in August 1998.
Photo by:Getty Images
■ Prior to the season opener, the WLAF is rebranded as NFL Europe.
■ The Berlin Thunder begin play in NFL Europe.
■ Stadium Australia in Sydney hosts the first American pro football game to be held in the Southern Hemisphere, a preseason matchup between the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers. Chargers punter Darren Bennett is a Sydney native.
■ The Cologne Centurions begin play in NFL Europe.
■ The Hamburg Sea Devils begin play in NFL Europe.
■ Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium hosts the first NFL regular-season game ever played outside the U.S.
A total of 103,467 fans pack the stadium to watch the Arizona Cardinals defeat the San Francisco 49ers, in what was then the largest attendance for a regular-season game in NFL history.
■ The final American Bowl is played, as the Atlanta Falcons beat the Indianapolis Colts at the Tokyo Bowl in Japan.
A record crowd packs Mexico’s Azteca Stadium in 2005.
Photo by:Getty Images
■ NFL Europe is rebranded NFL Europa, but folds after the conclusion of the season.
■ The NFL launches the International Series as the New York Giants defeat the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium in London.
■ The China Bowl, a proposed NFL preseason exhibition game that was to kick off the one-year countdown before the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and would have been the first NFL-sanctioned game in China, is postponed and eventually canceled.
■ The NFL begins to allow the Jacksonville Jaguars to market their brand and sell commercially in the United Kingdom, becoming what is believed to be the first U.S. sports team of any league with significant overseas sales and sponsorship rights. The Jaguars will begin playing annually one game a season in London from 2013 through 2016.
■ The International Series expands to three games, all at Wembley Stadium: Week 4 (Oakland Raiders-Miami Dolphins), Week 8 (Atlanta Falcons-Detroit Lions), Week 10 (Dallas Cowboys-Jacksonville Jaguars). AON, Thomson Sport and Virgin Atlantic are U.K.-based sponsors of the series.
Sources: NFL.com, SportsBusiness Journal archives
Following the eight NFL games played in London since 2007, the league is set to stage three more regular-season games in Wembley Stadium this year. NFL leaders have been open about ambitions to grow the business beyond the U.S., and the London investment appears to be paying dividends.
Fans are drawn to the complete package the NFL delivers. Between 25 percent and 46 percent of fans found each of six tested features of an NFL game “very appealing” and a strong majority found all tested elements at least “somewhat appealing.” The on-field competition (46 percent “very appealing”), game strategy (45 percent) and the physical nature of the game (41 percent) were most appealing to NFL fans in London. Meanwhile, player personalities (25 percent) placed last on this list — likely explained by the low familiarity with NFL athletes.
NFL fans in London display a genuine appetite for live game action — 70 percent of respondents indicated they would likely or definitely attend a game in Wembley in the next two years if the league continues to schedule them.
Most of those who will definitely attend have already experienced an NFL game in Wembley — a sign that these events are not just a hip novelty in the European capital but an experience generating repeat customers. Overall, roughly one-third of respondents indicated they have attended at least one of the International Series games.
Regardless of the positive indicators, developing a loyal NFL fan base in London will surely be a process and teaching fans the NFL rules will be a primary challenge to overcome. Three out of 10 local fans of the sport conceded they know very few NFL rules and only 27 percent felt they know all or most rules of the game. In July 2014, 28 percent of the NFL supporters in London surveyed for the study qualified as avid fans by Scarborough fan base definitions. To compare, avid fans make up close to half of the NFL’s fan base in the U.S. (Scarborough).
Currently, the UEFA Champions League and the Barclays Premier League have substantially more avid fans than the NFL even within the segment of local NFL fans — hardly a surprise.
The study broadly addressed the concept of a permanent NFL franchise in London. When given an option, local NFL fans tend to prefer that the NFL place a team in London as opposed to increase the number of games played there by different teams (54 percent vs. 46 percent). If an NFL franchise were to begin play in London, meaningful segments of local NFL fans pledge their support in the form of TV viewership and ticket purchases, including season-ticket plan considerations.
London is home to many expats and a convenient destination for many consumers with U.S. ties. Currently, these constitute the bigger slice of London’s NFL fans — 24 percent have lived in, and another 46 percent have visited, the U.S. in the past. While the increased interest, viewership and intent to attend figures as a result of the London games were evident across all respondent groups, the magnitude of the increase was more pronounced among fans with U.S. connections or exposure. The growing number of games scheduled in Wembley no doubt will bring a larger share of mind for the NFL in the U.K. More importantly, it will allow new fans to sample the NFL experience and learn to carve out a few hours of their Sundays for the NFL.
Conversations around a potential NFL franchise in London are typically dominated by concerns about logistics. The bigger factor for an eastward expansion is confidence among keepers of the NFL brand that knowledgeable and devoted fans will be lining up for the league’s second coming.
Nikolay Panchev is vice president of research at Turnkey Intelligence. The NFL and more than half of its clubs utilize Turnkey’s products and services.
What else NFL fans in London had to say
It’s hard to convey just how exciting Channel 4 was when it launched on British television screens in 1982. There’s a hint in the name. Until then we had only three television channels, two of which were off air for large parts of the day.
Compared to the dusty, complacent BBC, Channel 4 was a breath of fresh air, and part of its remit was to innovate.
This blue-sky thinking led to the well-meaning but ultimately flawed decision to flag up sexual content in films by placing a red triangle in the corner of the screen. As a teenage boy growing up in suburban London, this was manna from heaven. School break times were spent poring over TV listings organizing our weeks around red triangle nights.
The medium, as we know, is the message, and on Channel 4, the NFL was niche, two words that are rarely seen in the same sentence. It’s a short jump from niche to cool and in 1982, the NFL felt, bizarre as it sounds now, just a little bit underground.
I remember the first time I saw a kid walking down the street in a Miami Dolphins shirt. Again, memory plays tricks. This was before the explosion of English football club replica shirts became the uniform of the shopping mall. In the early ’80s, wearing a Dolphins shirt was the statement of an insider, closer to an indie band tour T-shirt than Manchester United’s Chevy-branded merchandise.
Then, in the late ’80s, the NFL started to come over to play in London and the excitement died. It was too try-hard, style over substance. The exoticism escaped like bad gas. Oddly, somewhere in the shift from media product to live experience, the life went out of it.
The events we got to see were flabby versions of the game, not the real thing. It was like expecting to get the
In the late 1980s, Gillis said, the NFL missed its mark in London. “It was too try-hard, style over substance.”
Photo by:Getty Images
Nobody wants to think of themselves as a target market and the NFL made the classic error that bedevils so much of global sports marketing, which is to assume that just because people live far away, they should be talked to like 5-year-olds, or foreigners.
So then it went quiet. For most of the ’90s the NFL existed in the shadows, also known as early British satellite television.
Fast forward to 2014 and football is back on Channel 4. There’s talk of momentum, a building of noise toward a British franchise. It all makes sense on PowerPoint: NFL owners populate the boardrooms of Premier League teams so there’s more than a whiff of synergy in the air.
I’m on the NFL’s marketing radar again, part of the key legacy demographic of fortysomething Londoners who are expected to form the core fan base — and buy the branded duvet covers — of the “London Whatevers,” to borrow NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s charming phrase.
But just as important is tone of voice, a point that takes us back to Channel 4 in 1982. Back then I was a Dolphins fan who viewed the NFL as a niche and exotic media product. The distance between me and Florida was central to their appeal. I loved the Dolphins because they weren’t in London.
Today the NFL is anything but niche. There are no secret pleasures in today’s multichannel, globalized sports market. The league has no option other than to come to town with all guns blazing and live up to the promise of its brand DNA. This time around it is big, slick and bold. Wembley fills out for the International Series, some of whom appear to be genuinely engaged fans who sit alongside the big-event junkies who would go to Wembley for the opening of a fridge door (pun intended).
This divide talks to the challenge of London 2.0, which is the difference between selling a one-off event and building a franchise that exists as part of the fabric of the city. It will be fascinating to watch how it unfolds over the next few years.
There is already oversupply in the British sports market. Do I, or my kids, need another team to pull for? Do I have the emotional capacity? And, just as importantly, does the NFL have the physical capacity? Will its inventory — the good stuff — stretch far enough without compromising quality?
The commitment of every team in the NFL is going to be tested because the U.K. fan base will be watching closely for signs that they are being taken seriously this time around. To succeed, the London Whatevers had better be in it for the long term: a genuine franchise playing a full schedule. It’s all or nothing.
Richard Gillis (Richard@gillisonline.co.uk) is the author of the Unofficial Partner sports business blog in London. Follow him on Twitter @richardgillis1.
The NFL’s desire to place a team in London has more to do with the league’s British media rights than its domestic deals, but the presence of a team in Europe could benefit the U.S. broadcast networks, as well.
“What if the NFL plays its London games early Sunday afternoon, and it creates a new Sunday morning window,” said industry consultant Ed Desser, who is president of Desser Sports Media. “That’s a virgin time slot for the NFL.”
Such a move would benefit the league’s Sunday afternoon rights holders, CBS and Fox. It’s unlikely that the league’s prime-time rights holders, ESPN, NBC and CBS/NFL Network, would carry a game from London, as an 8 p.m. ET kickoff would be 1 a.m. in England.
Still, any move to put an NFL team in the U.K. market would be much more beneficial for the league than for its current crop of U.S. TV partners.
“What you get by putting a team there is that you expand the home market by tens of millions of homes,” Desser said. “It would take decades for the league to grow that much in the U.S.”
While the league’s U.S. television deals with CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC are tied up into the next decade, its British deals with Sky Sports and Channel 4 are much shorter term. Sky’s deal ends after this season; Channel 4’s ends after the next one.
If the NFL places a team in London, the league clearly believes it will be able to negotiate a bigger media rights deal in Britain, given the local revenue possibilities and local interest in the games.
Even with a potentially new time slot, a team in London would present several challenges for U.S. broadcasters.
Networks would see a rise in production costs combined with the loss of a domestic home market. And obviously the added British viewers would help British broadcasters, but not the ones in the U.S.
“Each time you take away a home market, your average rating goes down,” Desser said. “But the NFL has done remarkably well slicing and dicing the salami in thinner and thinner pieces.”
The story is completely different when it comes to Los Angeles, for example. The second-biggest U.S. television market has been without an NFL team since 1994, when the Raiders moved to Oakland and the Rams left for St. Louis.
Network executives have been open about wanting a Los Angeles team — particularly a successful team — in the conference with which it is associated. But don’t count the league’s TV partners as anxiously pushing to be in Los Angeles. TV networks aren’t fighting the NFL’s desire to put a team in Los Angeles, but they certainly aren’t clamoring for it, either. After two consecutive seasons of record-high TV ratings, network executives say they are happy with their rights packages as they currently stand.
■ What did you expect playing in London would be like?
Barber: I’m not sure what we expected from either London trip I took to play. I love the city, though. I had been to London a few times before my first game there and had been to Wembley [Stadium] to watch soccer. So I kind of knew what the environment would be like in the stadium. What I didn’t know was how Europeans would take American football. I honestly assumed they would just be casually interested at best.
■ What was it like actually?
Barber: In actuality, they were very into the game. Though I get the feeling there were a lot of American expats there. But even the locals seemed to draw off the excitement of the experience. I mean the NFL makes a rather large production of it so I guess that’s to be expected. The hype machine worked.
Strahan: Exactly what I imagined. Except that they had jerseys representing every team around the NFL. They
Said Strahan: “I was really surprised about the knowledge that the fans there had. And also how many locals came to the game, not only Americans that were in London.”
Photo by:Getty Images
■ What did you like about the experience?
Barber: I think there was a lot to like. As I mentioned, London is a fantastic city and being able to be there for a lot of the guys who had not been was exciting. The game definitely had a bigger than a regular-season matchup feel, so that was a positive, too.
Strahan: The culture. There is something so different from flying into a U.S. city playing a game and flying home. The great thing is that there you had a chance to get out and see the culture of the country, to see some things that a lot of guys had never seen before. And that was my favorite part of this trip, the energy of London. It’s magnificent, and that’s coming from somebody who is from New York.
■ What didn’t you like?
Barber: The travel was brutal the first time we went over there. We treated it like an away game on the West Coast so we left only a day before. Of course heading east you get there the next day. That five-hour time change sucked. The second time was a lot more amiable since we left the Monday before the game. Got there Tuesday and practiced like a normal week.
Strahan: It’s expensive.
Ronde Barber (right) in action at Wembley in 2011.
Photo by:Getty Images
Barber: The fans were great. They were into seemingly everything. You can be a casual fan and tell when a big play happens. Though I’m not sure they were actually cheering for either side. There were a wide range of NFL jerseys represented, not necessarily those of the teams playing.
Strahan: Energetic. Loud. Knowledgeable. Rowdy. True football fans.
■ What was the stadium like?
Barber: Wembley is an outstanding venue. Having been there as a fan and a player, it’s one of the best places I’ve been. That being said, the field is/was better suited as a pitch for soccer than a surface for football — very slick footing!
Flying the friendly skies
Teams playing in London this season in the International Series will roll up some serious frequent flyer miles.
Sept. 28 (Week 4)
Team Air Miles to London Oakland Raiders 5,993 Miami Dolphins 4,507
Oct. 26 (Week 8)
Team Air Miles to London Atlanta Falcons 4,364 Detroit Lions 3,937
Nov. 9 (Week 10)
Team Air Miles to London Dallas Cowboys 5,002 Jacksonville Jaguars 3,996
Note: Oakland is eight hours behind London time and Dallas is six hours behind. All other cities listed are five hours behind London. All three games are scheduled for Sundays.
Source: SportsBusiness Journal research
Strahan: Beautiful, absolutely breathtaking. Especially knowing the history of it really takes you back.
■ Do you think the NFL should play more games there?
Barber: I think they should as long as the interest remains high. Our football will obviously never dent the popularity of futbol there, but as a niche market for a few games [at most] a year, I think it’s a good idea.
Strahan: Definitely. The players enjoy it. They have a good time and they have a chance to see something totally different and experience something out of the country.
■ Do you think the NFL will one day locate a team there full time?
Barber: No way! Operating logistics don’t make sense. Financially it would be cumbersome I think. Managing personnel and transacting players just seems like it would be a nightmare. There’s a lot of talk about it, but I think it’s silly idealism and conjecture at best.
Strahan: From my understanding, yes. I’m not sure about logistics, but it would be very interesting if they could create a team there and keep a fan base there that could support it. Judging from the teams there in the past, it looks like they could and definitely will make a concerted effort.
Note: Responses were made via email.