It has been eight years since the International NFL series ventured onto the shores of Great Britain, and its popularity has soared since the opening game between the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins.
The Dolphins, hosting that very first game, lost 13-10, but, apart from for the two sides involved, the result was unimportant, it was the interest that emerged during that season. So, what is it that attracts Brits to the American game?
Obviously football, cricket and rugby have always been at the forefront of sports in the UK, and one may argue that interest has spread around sports more than ever before.
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With the ever-improving Andy Murray, there has been more interest in Tennis and, with Lewis Hamilton recently winning his third world title, F1 is also climbing up the pecking order.
But, despite all of this, the NFL continues to sell-out Wembley stadium for every international series match, and the television audience keeps growing as well.
The fixtures were sell-outs once again this year, but more of the focus was placed on how many attended the three-game series in the UK this season. A phenomenal quarter of a million fans passed through Wembley Stadium over those three games. So why is there so much interest?
American Football was once ridiculed by many fans of English football and even rugby, who deemed the game to be for cowards due to the amount of protection worn, in contrast to players of British sports. Some couldn't understand the need for helmets, or shoulder-pads when players of rugby union and rugby league wear nothing but a jersey, shorts and maybe tape around their ears or small headgear.
In recent times, television coverage has shown evidence that many of the stars of football and rugby hold the NFL in high esteem, stating it is an extremely tough and physical game for athletes as they are hit at such high speeds. There is also something very attractive to fans who are privileged enough to attend these games.
More games to come?
The NFL International series arrives in the UK three times per season, at present, with the potential for more games in the next few years. Each arrival sparks a huge wave of interest in the capital and London hosts a special 'NFL on Regent Street' celebration, each Saturday prior to the Sunday game.
Thousands of fans unite and get the chance to see the host team's cheerleaders, can have their photograph with the Vince Lombardi Trophy, get to see hall of famers, as well as the players and head coaches from the two teams. Then comes the big day. The game usually starts at 2:30pm in the afternoon and nearly a hundred thousand fans flock to see their heroes, or to witness a new event for the first time.
The match day plays host to many merchandise tents, competition areas to win NFL prizes, a plaza area just off Wembley Way where, if you are fortunate enough to have booked a pass, you get to savour many American traditional foods and beers, as well as getting to stand close to past players and current television pundits from the world of NFL positioned on a mini version of the NFL playing field.
In addition to this, there are cheerleaders parading around the stadium, television personalities covering the game, programme sellers and large life-size banners featuring stars from both teams where fans can stand and pose next to their favourite player.
The most striking part of the pre-match spectacle is seeing so many fans in their favourite team jerseys, jackets, headgear and more. They stand side by side, enjoying the experience of simply being at such an occasion.
It doesn't matter which team you support
Probably only a third of the crowd are there to support their own team, yet all NFL fans turn up in their own team's jersey whatever and the mingling between the fans of every franchise is something you could never see at an English football match. It is a joy to behold and an atmosphere in which one feels safe and where families can sit together and gaze in awe at the scenes unfolding as the game passes
Anthems are always fully respected. The loud speaker blasts out a voice reminiscent, perhaps, of Darth Vader, booming throughout the stadium. Throughout the game's four quarters, the fans also get to take part in 'guess the location of the helmet', can watch video coverage of the most outrageously dressed fans in the stadium, whilst NFL staff jump out among the crowd to fire out NFL tee-shirts to any lucky catchers in the audience, something which, although commonplace in the USA, is quite rare in the UK.
So is it any wonder the fans love coming to these games. They get value for money in every sense. There is never any crowd trouble, they experience something they may never forget and return home safely. The British game can learn much from the world of NFL and long may it continue.
Can an NFL franchise thrive in London? Give YOUR opinion in the comment box below
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