However should this years game be another poor one, there may be a question mark in continuing the strategy of a single game in the UK, particularly with the open antithapy being shown by the players, unless Urlacher is a single dissenting voice, and the NFL may need to look at other ways of maintaining British interest. For as we have shown before, if the product isn’t consistently the best, then we are quick to turn our backs on it.
At the height of the games popularity in the UK, on the back of The Refrigerator and the all conquering Bears of 1985, the NFL brought a pre-season game over here. These were played at the old Wembley stadium, and in the beginning were a massive success. The first between the Cowboys and the Bears was played in front of a packed crowd.
However, what British fans were not prepared for was to see the stars of the team play one quarter, and the rest of the game played by bench players, rookies and free agents. Within a couple of years, as the UK audience became more savvy and realised that we were being short changed, attendances fell and the game dropped off the schedule.
The next big thing to hit the UK was the World League of American Football. London were the marquee franchise of the fledging league and Wembley was chosen as the home stadium of the Monarchs. Despite the team featuring NFL rejects and wannabees, the teams success ensured that the crowds averaged 40K in its first season. The Monarchs won the inaugural World Bowl, but the success of the team saw it’s players move on. As the league was a
development opportunity for unsigned players, the nature of the competition saw the Monarchs field an entirely new roster the following year. Attendances plummeted as the team won just two games before the league folded.
When it reappeared two years later, as NFL Europe, British fans had moved on. Soccer had exploded due to the success of the EPL, and American Football, no longer shown regularly on primetime terrestrial TV, had lost its impetus. The team moved to a soccer stadium, which was too small for the field, and the crowds stayed away. The fans didn’t want to watch a second rate game. After a nomadic period as the team morphed into the England Monarchs playing at stadiums across the country, the franchise folded and moved to
At the moment the regular season game remains a once a year novelty, ensuring a big crowd and a successful event. If the NFL continues to send middle ranking teams, then the interest may eventually wane, and the sports popularity in the UK could again falter. Despite NFL Europe’s popularity on he continent whilst it existed, the UK remains the natural home for the sports expansion, with our common language and cultural similarities. There is one way that the NFL could maintain an interest in the UK for the foreseeable future, and that is something I will discuss next week.