“Hey, another NFL game in London! Awful! The Tampa Bay fans lose a home game as a soccer-mad nation checks in on Chelsea and Man U.” So scowled the SF Chronicle’s Bruce Jenkins yesterday, neglecting to mention it was Liverpool who played Manchester United this weekend in the big battle for the UK’s sports fans’ hearts and minds. Despite a healthy turnout on a day tons of empty seats were visible in Oakland, the Times’ Nick Szczepanik seems to concur with Jenkins, opining, “Wembley Stadium was about the worst place in Britain in which to judge the success or otherwise of the project.”
The NFL wants to spread the word, increase the number of games played here and even, perhaps, establish a London franchise. For its third regular season game at Wembley, it had brought over the team of the decade in the Patriots, and arguably the leading star of the sport in Tom Brady, their quarterback. But inevitably, they were preaching to the converted ” 84,000 of them.
What can the NFL do to spread its word beyond its existing constituency over here? Part of the plan was the largest tailgate party yet, held in the Wembley car park, with all 32 teams represented, so that neutrals ” if there were any ” could pick a team.
There was an NFL cinema, live bands, video game tents and free face transfers (sorry, decals) of the two teams™ logos. But it did not have the one essential for an authentic tailgate ” excellent food.
At NFL games in the US, fans bring half a dead cow and a vast grill to cook it on, and if you are wandering past looking undernourished (in other words, of normal British girth) the chances are that you™ll be invited over to partake.
Here there were just the usual overpriced fish and chips and burger vans. œIt™s just one big commercial gathering, Dean Rothwell, a Patriots fan from Chesterfield, said.
The NFL may only know that they have reached the limits of Britain™s potential when it fails. Perhaps it should deliberately pick an unattractive match-up for next season and see if it can still sell out. If there is a full house to see the Carolina Panthers take on the Buffalo Bills, the NFL can take over the world, never mind Wembley.
I realize an East Coast experience is hardly representative of the entire USA, but hands up, every person who has wandered through the parking lot in Foxboro or East Rutherford and found themselves invited to break bread with strangers. I suspect the total number will be substantially fewer than those who’ve been in a fight or had to ask someone to stop urinating on their car.