(the Fridge actually participated in something more embarrassing than “The Super Bowl Shuffle”)
While this weekend’s Giants/Dolphis tilt presents an opportunity for the inevitable photo-op pairing Jeremy Shockey with Pete Doherty, Ch. 5 football analyst Mike Carlson tells the Guardian that while “American football is never going to replace Britain’s own major sports,” gridiron’s impact on the business of British sports cannot be understated.
Twenty-five years ago Channel 4 began its Sunday television coverage. Within four years Superbowl drew four million viewers and the Chicago Bears – complete with the William “The Fridge” Perry – sold out Wembley for an exhibition game./p>
If I had told you then that English football teams would be playing in a Premier League in all-seat stadiums with matches live on television on Saturdays, Sundays and Monday nights, with players from all over the world wearing squad numbers and names on their jerseys and with commentators using telestrators to analyse matches, you would have called me crazy.
Last weekend we saw the rugby World Cup final arguably decided by video replay, Jonny Wilkinson and Clive Woodward – when he was England coach – have used coaches from American football, and cheerleaders prowl the sidelines at some rugby clubs. All of this is prompted by the sharp shock of American football at a time when hooliganism in football and traditionalism in TV had left British sports moribund.
This weekend’s game is likely to kickstart the NFL’s popularity in Britain for a second cycle, but the aims are different from what they were in the 80s. When I spoke to the New York Giants players last week in Atlanta they said that London was primarily a business trip – as it is for the league. The sport’s decline in the UK came because too much of its best product has been available on British television, leaving fans unwilling to invest in second best.
The new NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, wagered that the million-plus hardcore fans in Britain would flock to see the best product the league has to offer. He has been proved right this year. But with NFL owners moving increasingly into the Premier League, the question is not whether American football will replace soccer but whether soccer will come to resemble American football in the way its franchises – no longer clubs – are run.