NFL London Game Deemed Success; Mixed Reaction To Permanent Team
The Patriots-Rams game in London yesterday marked the NFL’s sixth international game at Wembley Stadium with 84,004 fans “on hand to see these two teams play,” according to Field Yates of ESPN.com. Whether an NFL team ever is placed in London “remains to be seen, but the NFL certainly has had its share of success in hosting these annual games” (ESPN.com, 10/28). Fans in attendance “showed boisterous support throughout the game, including plenty of cheers for the Patriots, who were technically the ‘road’ team during the neutral-site affair.” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, "You heard a lot of back and forth cheering in the game, when normally it's one way or the other.” He added, “Wembley Stadium is obviously big, almost cavernous there with that slight opening up on top. The lighting is a little bit different. It's a big crowd, a good crowd. They were in to the game" (ESPN.com, 10/28). In St. Louis, Jim Thomas writes the pregame buildup “had the feel of a mini-Super Bowl.” Despite the Patriots 45-7 victory over the Rams, almost “all of the fans hung in there till the end.” The crowd was “pro-New England, but not as much as anticipated.” During “lulls in the action, the Wave made a European appearance.” Rams CB Cortland Finnegan said, "I enjoyed it. I thoroughly enjoyed it." Rams LB James Laurinaitis said, "London treated us great" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 10/29).
LONDON BRIDGES: Former Rams players Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt on Saturday afternoon at the NFL’s FanFest rally in Trafalgar Square “entertained a packed crowd of American football fans estimated at 40,000” (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 10/28). At that rally, Patriots Owner Robert Kraft “shared his belief that London is ready to have its own professional football team.” Kraft said, "You're already hosting the premier league, and we believe we're the premier sport in the world. I think London has shown, with the way they've handled the Olympics and every other major sporting event, that it's time for you to have your own NFL franchise" (ESPNBOSTON.com, 10/27). Kraft said, “For our game to continue to grow and be special we have to expand our fan base, and I think from our cultural and language point of view, going to England and playing there and developing the game (made sense). We have such a following in the UK and people really grab on to the game.” NFL U.K. Managing Dir Alistair Kirkwood said that the TV audience for NFL games “has grown threefold since 2007, and now ranks as the country’s seventh most-watched sport.” NFL VP/International Chris Parsons and Kirkwood said that a team “is a long way off.” Parsons said, “My real focus and my objectives are really about building the fan base.” He added, “If we can double the size of our fan base again over the next five years, then we would be establishing conditions where in the future it could be a possibility” (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/28). Kraft said, “I think as things develop, there’s a permanent home team, Jacksonville’s going to play here four years in a row. I’m sure they’ll develop a big following” (BOSTON HERALD, 10/28).
SOCCER VS FOOTBALL: SI.com’s Jon Wertheim noted yesterday’s game “sold out, and most of the 84,000 fans appeared to be confused, bemused and ultimately enthused.” Most fans were “somewhere in the middle,” as it was “not a gripping game, but a gripping spectacle.” The NFL “ought to be pleased, too” (SI.com, 10/28). In London, Ben Saunders writes American football fans in Britain “have got it pretty good, but is an NFL franchise really viable?” The first thing the NFL “has learnt about London is that it will draw a crowd once a year.” The Wembley atmosphere is “rather like that of a rugby league Challenge Cup final.” NFL execs next year will “find out whether Wembley will be able to pull the punters in when they have two games within a month of each other” (LONDON TIMES, 10/29). SI.com’s Peter King wrote the NFL's “test in Europe will come when multiple games are played with some mediocre teams” (SI.com, 10/26). In London, Nick Szczepanik writes NFL execs “believe that the appetite exists” for football in the U.K. and “you get the feeling that they are probably right.” Ticket prices for yesterday’s game ranged from $80-$239. The two games next season are “expected to tell the NFL whether casual fans will attach themselves to a team that appears regularly” (London INDEPENDENT, 10/29). USA TODAY’s Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz wrote placing a team outside of North America “presents entirely different logistical problems.” With the time changes and “distances involved, shipping a London-based team to the United States eight times a season for away games certainly would rattle the league's competitive balance.” It is a “tantalizing idea but one probably best kept in the pep rally forum” (USATODAY.com, 10/27). TIME.com’s Glen Levy writes while there is “no questioning the interest and knowledge shown by the British fanbase, polite applause greets completed passes rather than the raucous roars often heard across American stadia” (TIME.com, 10/29).
ONGOING EXPERIMENT: The GUARDIAN’s Sean Ingle wrote American football is “again moving the chains in Britain,” and the NFL’s plan “seems to be working.” But Rams QB Sam Bradford said of children he met near EPL club Arsenal's training ground, "It was surprising just how little they knew about our game. Some of the kids, it was the first time they'd ever seen an American football.” Kirkwood is “chilly on the prospects” for an NFL London franchise “at least in the short term.” He said, "You don't want to do things for a sake of doing things. Our fan base would probably need to triple in size for it to be sustainable” (GUARDIAN, 10/28). In Tampa, Tom Jones writes the NFL “continues to push this London game, and I don't get it.” Jones: “First off, why not make it a big deal in this country? Make it a Friday game. Or a Saturday game. Why not make it the Monday night game? Make it special.” He continues, “If it's not a big deal here and it's not a big deal there, what's the point?” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 10/29). In Boston, Christopher Gasper wrote "the league’s clarion call is falling on a lot of deaf ears.” An NFL franchise in London “wouldn’t turn many heads.” The big football game everyone is talking about that was played yesterday in London was not Patriots-Rams, but rather it was EPL matchup Chelsea-Manchester United" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/28). ESPN BOSTON’s Reiss wrote of a potential NFL London team, “I don't sense agreement from many of the fans I've spoken with here over the past few days.” The general feeling is that they “presently have allegiances to already-existing NFL teams and wouldn't switch for a newly formed or relocated NFL club” (ESPNBOSTON.com, 10/28).
FITTING THE BILL: The BOSTON GLOBE’s Gasper wrote if the NFL was “looking for its preeminent coach to act as a good-natured goodwill ambassador for expansion in the United Kingdom, it made a miscalculation” with Belichick. This past weekend he was “lacking genuine enthusiasm about or appreciation for the opportunity to export the NFL.” If the NFL is “serious about becoming part of the fabric of the British sports scene, it has to mandate that the teams show up by Wednesday for more media coverage.” There was “not a great deal of buzz here" about the game. It is “clear Belichick doesn’t buy the idea of American football catching on in the United Kingdom, although he is smart enough not to say it directly.” Belichick said, “I’m not really sure. I haven’t really thought about it” (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/27).
PERCEPTION IS REALITY: NFL Network’s Steve Mariucci said, “I boldly predict the TV ratings for the Patriots-Rams game over there in the U.K. will have better ratings than Manchester United-Chelsea that play one hour before.” NFL Network’s Rich Eisen said, “It is quite rare to find NFL news relegated to the ‘other sport’ section of a newspaper, but that’s what happens when the U.K. tabloids cover the NFL, especially when the annual international series game falls on the same Sunday that Chelsea and Manchester United face off in North London.” The U.K. media referenced Belichick as “miserable Bill,” and the “media darling was James Laurinaitis mostly because his dad, The Road Warrior Animal, wrestled in Wembley in the1992 Summer Slam” (NFL GameDay Morning,” NFL Network, 10/28).
LONDON OR L.A.: CBS’ Boomer Esiason, on whether an NFL team will come first for London or L.A., said, “It’s got to be L.A. It’s America’s game and now we’re going to take one of our teams and put them over in London? You’ve got to be kidding me. Why don’t they test out the L.A. market once again with one of these teams?” CBS’ Dan Marino added, “You’re going to see a team in London.” Esiason added, “I know, but I want a team in L.A. before a team in London.” CBS’ Bill Cowher: “I think you’re going to keep it in state. That’s where the roots are. You play college football here. If you’re going to put a professional team, put it here in the United States.” But CBS’ Jason La Canfora said, “There’s a strong desire to be in London. I talked to several people who were at the most recent league meeting where all the owners gathered. They came away convinced that not only is this going to happen, it’s going to happen in the next ten years. A lot of people within the league believe that Jacksonville is the likely frontrunners to end up there. Remember, they’re going to be playing a game at Wembley from 2013 through 2016” (“The NFL Today,” CBS, 10/28).
THE HOST WITH THE MOST: Parsons said that Wembley has “an exclusive contract for NFL games in the UK for the next five years, and it’s not likely the NFL will schedule games outside the UK right now.” In Boston, Donna Goddison noted the NFL “sets up a 131-foot-long merchandise tent at Wembley that sells jerseys from every NFL team and racks up $1.5 million in sales per game.” Parsons said, “On the day of our game at Wembley Stadium, we’ll sell more merchandise than any other sports event in the UK on any calendar day, so we’ve done really well” (BOSTON HERALD, 10/27).