Decision To Add Second NFL Game In London Based On Sizable Growth Of U.K. Fan Base
The NFL’s decision to expand to two games in London this season was based heavily on its data and analysis, according to the league’s Research Dir Alicia Rankin. In her address at the Sports Analytics Innovation Summit in Boston on Thursday, Rankin noted there are now 12.4 million NFL fans in the U.K. since the Int'l Series was first played in London in ’07, which she called “sizable growth,” while the “avid fan” base since ’09 has “almost nearly doubled.” Rankin: “Fans are just engaging more in the TV ratings side, buying merchandise, the websites; it’s actually been across the board. Game Pass, which is our international online product -- we’re seeing more usage, more subscribers in that.” Rankin hopes with the Jaguars committed to playing four games in London over the next four seasons, interest will grow around one team making repeat visits. “Having a favorite team is really critical in growing that fan base. You’re more likely to consume them on TV, more likely to consume their products, their merchandise,” Rankin said. Thus far, the league’s research shows the Jaguars' British-based fan club, the Union Jax, has grown to nearly 10,000 since its inception in April. While the NFL in recent years has made a push to diversify the fan base gender stateside, attendees at Wembley still largely skew male -- with 88% of those in the stadium men for last year’s game, which was consistent with previous years. In addition, most of those attending are repeat customers, with a total of 67% attending multiple games. Rankin hopes that trend continues with the Jaguars being a consistent team playing in London. “There’s an awareness that they’re going to be there for four years, which is important. There’s a significant number of fans who are starting to feel more interested in them as a team and feel more favorable to them as a team. It’s just a matter of having them come back every year and see their interest grow and see their sales continue to grow as well.”
ROOM FOR GROWTH ACROSS THE CONTINENT: Rankin noted room for growth exists across Europe, as the NFL is behind other sports that have long been invested in the continent. “We’re not number one, so it’s always a challenge to make sure you’re getting that media coverage that you want. Not just from the two games that are being played, but all year round.” But she pointed out that since the first Int'l Series game in the U.K., viewership has increased nearly 40%. She added of an additional challenge, “We’re trying to get people to understand the sport. It’s a lot about just education.” Outside of London, Rankin notes the next largest international fan bases are in Canada and Mexico. But she stressed the league currently is “focused on the U.K.” Rankin highlighted why the U.K. is ripe for NFL involvement: “There’s a great appreciation for American sports over there. I think we’ve done a great job of marketing the sport. They’re familiar with American football coming over from the ‘80s and ‘90s from our NFL Europe days, so it’s not a completely new concept to them. And the London Monarchs did quite well in their day, so it’s kind of bringing that back.” Moving forward, Rankin notes her department will focus on evaluating the decision to add a second game this year in London, analyze the impact of the Jaguars playing over four seasons and explore other U.K. venues in which to play.