On Super Bowl weekend we explore the rise of American sport in London.

  • As the three American sports giants come to London, Head of Sponsorship, Steve Cording, explores the rise of American sport in London

THE news that the National Football League do not envisage a franchise moving to London whilst disappointing for some is not all bad news.

League Commissioner Roger Goodell, speaking on the eve of Super Bowl LIII that takes place between the Rams and the Patriots this Sunday, said the NFL will keep playing games in the capital, but moving a team here isn’t on the cards.

He said: “The issue for us still is: Can we do this competitively for the team that is based there [London], but also for the 31 other clubs? That involves scheduling; it involves a lot of other matters that you don’t want to compromise. And until we can get comfortable on that I don’t think we’ll be NFL-ready in London.”

The good news is that the NFL has no plans to stop coming to the capital where the sport has been embraced since the first regular season games were played back in 2007.

“We’ve been extraordinarily pleased with the reaction we’ve gotten to playing regular-season games in the UK,” he added. “The fans there are really fantastic. They’ve shown passion, they’ve shown the same type of knowledge and interest in our game that we experience right here in the United States.”

Goodell is right, the passion for the NFL, and other American sports in the UK is at an all-time high. It is the reason that Major League Baseball are following the lead and moving two games to the London Stadium this summer. The National Basketball Association have also been coming to the UK for a decade to play at the O2 Arena and last month’s (Jan) game between the Knicks and the Wizards sold out in less than an hour.

Of course, passionate fans are not the only reason the three American giants come to London – there is money to be made. Merchandise for all three sports has always been big business – how many of you reading this own a New York Yankees cap even though you don’t know which sport they play? The games themselves are now holding their own with headline sponsors across the board adding to the maximum revenues earned from sold-out venues.

Subway signed a three-year deal in 2017 to make the fast-food franchise the presenting partner of the NFL in the UK and Ireland; Norwegian Airlines were the presenting partner of the NBA London Games this year and Canadian Technology and Communications company Mitel will be the main sponsor of the MLB London Series in 2019 and 2020.

Data from SMG Insight last year showed why the partnership with the NFL works for Subway. It showed Buzz for the brand among the general population remained steady – but Subway’s activation of the sponsorship grabbed the attention of NFL-supporting customers.

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Whereas SMG Insight would normally expect a drop off following a big campaign, it still remained almost three weeks after the final London game – a sign that that the campaign really hit home.

At ESI Media we have had three separate partnerships over the past six months to promote the NFL, NBA and MLB with interest and coverage on our news and sports pages growing and 2.4m of our monthly cross-platform audience interested in American Sports (i124) (Source: TGI Clickstream 2018 Q2.)

The last major report on the effect of the NFL in London by Deloitte in 2014 found that the two games played in autumn the previous year contributed £32million to the local economy. Deloitte also estimated that could increase to £102 million in the event of a London franchise playing eight regular games a season in the capital.

That magical £100m figure could still be achieved despite Goodell’s assertion that a team will not be playing full-time in London.

The current business model works because of the continued pulling power of London as a diverse, progressive and innovative city and because middle-aged NFL fans like me don’t want to see the same team every week.

I grew up watching a weekly highlights show in the 1980s anchored by former Atlanta Falcons kicker Mick Luckhurst on Channel 4. Star quarterback Dan Marino turned me a into a fan of the Miami Dolphins and I would not change allegiance now even if London had a team.

Jacksonville have, by de facto, become ‘London’s’ team playing one ‘home’ game here in the UK since 2013 in a deal that still has two more years to run with an option to extend it to 2025. But go to any of their matches and you will see as many, if not more, Giants, Steelers, Redskins and Bears jerseys. Only three teams have yet to play in London and two of those, the Texans and Panthers – who have Londoner Efe Obada on their roster – are both coming this year.

That means out of 32 NFL teams, only the Green Bay Packers are yet to take the flight over the Atlantic, the odds must be on them making it a full house in 2020.

So Goodell is right, one franchise in London is not viable, but wouldn’t it be great to still have eight games a season in London but with 16 different teams? That would be a marketers dream.

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