View From Across The Pond – NFL Must Not Take UK Support For Granted
Last week I promised to expand on why the NFL should continue to export the game around the world, despite the lack of enthusiasm shown by Brian Urlacher regarding his upcoming trip to London in October.
This season, providing the lockout ends by August 1st, will see the fifth regular season game to be played at Wembley Stadium in London. Each game has been a sell out with 80,000 fans attending. UK fans wishing to see the game have had to pre-register their interest in attending since May to ensure they have the opportunity to buy a ticket. Should the game happen, then it is guaranteed that once again it will be sold out.
However, bar the 2008 match-up between San Diego and New Orleans, the games have been damp squibs, quite literally in the case of the first game between Miami and the New York Giants. Both these sides have had a large following in the UK since the game first hit our screens regularly back in the early 1980’s, with a whole host of schoolyard quarterbacks pretending to be Dan Marino or Phil Simms.
On that occasion we were just delighted to see a “real” game in the flesh, and the inability of either side to get to grip with the conditions, leading to a game of short runs, fumbles and a general lack of excitement, made no odds. The game was a massive success, and it was no
surprise when the NFL said they would be back.
I attended the game between San Diego and New Orleans the following season, which turned out to be a classic. However until a fourth quarter comeback led by Phillip Rivers, the game threatened to be a blowout, so much so that I left before the end, missing the Hail Mary pass which almost took the game into overtime.
Ironically when Tampa Bay entertained New England in 2009, my nearest NFL stadium that day was the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, as I was on vacation in Florida with my family. Once again the game was a bit of a blow out with New England easily winning.
I attended again last season when San Francisco took on Denver, two more sides at the height of their powers in the mid-1980’s. Again the atmosphere was great, the game a dog. Neither side could generate any offence in a first half, which purely seemed to consist of three and outs.
It appears that the novelty seems to have worn off for the teams though, with Tampa Bay being persuaded to return for a second visit this season to take on another 80’s favourite, the Chicago Bears.
On paper this match up is not an attractive one. Tampa have been a struggling side ever since winning Superbowl XXXVII, whilst Chicago despite a recent Superbowl appearance and progessing to the NFC Championship game last season, are a grinding offensive unit with very few big play makers and rely heavily on their defense.
Tampa Bay’s owners, the Glazer family, have an interest in promoting the Buccaneers in the UK due to their ownership of arguably one of the worlds best soccer teams in Manchester United. They may see a healthy merchandising strategy with the possibility of linking the two clubs in a similar way to a deal agreed by Manchester United with the New York Yankees.