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A British View on the NFL at Wembley

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When Eli Manning scored the first ever touchdown in a regular NFL game outside of North America at Wembley Stadium in 2007, you got the feeling this was something that would grow and grow, and sure enough, 6 years later the NFL hasn’t lost its appeal in the UK, in fact it’s bigger than ever.

In 2013, there will be two regular season games in London, tickets will be hotter than ever and hotels near Wembley Stadium will be packed to the rafters with gridiron fans. Success has been so huge that the league has announced at least one game per season until 2016.

In my view the rise of the NFL here reminds me of the emergence of the MLS in the US over the past few years. Often in order to appreciate a sport you have to see all of the ‘razzmatazz’ behind it, rather like the arrival of David Beckham in LA. A huge occasion gets people talking about the event, reading about the sport they are not too familiar with and then maybe even trying it out. I don’t think American Football will ever surpass soccer in the UK, likewise with soccer in the US, but things are moving in the right direction and of course Rome wasn’t built in a day was it?

Being from the UK, I’ll never have a passion for American Football on a par with our cousins across the Atlantic, however, I can appreciate the beauty of the sport especially the technical aspects of the game and there’s nothing better than seeing a play which has been memorized on the training ground come to fruition on the field. What I can’t get my head around is how people involved in the sport – in particular the fans – can accept watching their team play a home game in another country?

I can never in my life see an English Premier League football match being played in another country. It has been spoken about in the past but talks have never made it past the back pages of the newspapers. Owners of teams would have a mutiny on their hands from their own fans if even the merest suggestion was put forward. On paper the idea seems a good one especially from a marketing perspective, but in reality the majority of soccer supporters would oppose such a move.

So what’s the future for the NFL at Wembley? There’s no doubt that the league sees expansion into Europe as key to the growth of the sport, and with a fan base in the UK growing year on year, there’s no reason why it can’t go from strength to strength. More interestingly, there has been a lot of talk recently about an NFL franchise starting or even moving permanently to London to occupy the 2012 Olympic Stadium which is now vacant awaiting a tenant after the games. In addition, will there ever be a time when we’ll see a Super Bowl outside of the United States? Time will tell.

Mike Dodgson is the owner of a UK based hotel website stadiahotels.co.uk. He is a British Citizen currently living in Gibraltar off the coast of southern Spain. In his spare time he regularly blogs about two of his passions in life, sport and travel.

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