The stage is set for 2014 as America takes it’s flagship sport across the pond once more as part of the increasingly popular NFL International Series.
The demand for American Football in the United Kingdom and indeed across Europe is growing by the year, and they have responded in earnest for 2014. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has signed off on a record-breaking three regular season games in London next year in an attempt to quench the Brits’ insatiable thirst for the gridiron.
The NFL first tested the water in 2007 when the Miami Dolphins set a precedent by giving up their home advantage, which many see as integral in the game, to host the New York Giants in England’s national soccer stadium. The occasion was deemed a unanimous success, and despite the damage to the turf and subsequent finger-pointing after the following England international setback, the two parties never looked back.
What was a single-game agreement for the five years that followed, multiplied in 2013 as both the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars were chosen to grace the hallowed turf at Wembley Stadium — the Vikings achieved their only victory so far this season in game one whilst the Jags will host the San Francisco 49ers later this week.
With popularity on the up and tickets selling out within hours of going on sale, the NFL continues to feed the obsession. And in a bid to go one better for 2014 it was announced some weeks ago that three teams had registered interest in playing a home game in London next season and that all three were to be catered for; what was once seen as taboo is now a sought-after commodity.
The Jaguars will come again as part of a three-year agreement that intertwines with owner Shahid Khan‘s purchase of London-based Premier League Fulham FC. The natives’ reaction to this was mixed to say the least; after all the thought of seeing the worst team in the NFL three years consecutively does little to excite and on the same token does little to accommodate the novelty of seeing a varying act each year. So as to sweeten the deal, the Oakland Raiders and Atlanta Falcons were added to the mix for the 2014 season.
With regular-season schedules traditionally released in the April prior to the season, the Brits were preparing for months of suspense before getting to know which three teams would complete this extended cycle. In order to maximize the potential for ticket sales, however, the NFL could afford to be be a little premature and as exception to the norm revealed the opposition earlier today.
The Jaguars play host to the Dallas Cowboys, the Detroit Lions will travel a little further than expected to face the Falcons whilst the Dolphins will be going continent-to-continent rather than the traditional coast-to-coast when they meet the Raiders next season. It is a shrewd move by the NFL. There is no coincidence in the fact that four of the six teams involved have never traveled as part of the International Series before and with each franchise represented in some capacity in the UK, they are never short of a target audience.
Of the three events it would appear on face value that the Lions vs. Falcons provides the most intrigue. The idea of seeing Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford take to the skies with their corps of explosive receivers will undoubtedly be the most popular among the European audience that comes in search of big-scoring contests and flowing football.
We are yet to receive official word regarding weeks and dates though the rumors on the mill currently are sounding out Weeks 4, 8 and 10 of the 2014 regular season.
The International Series is expanding year after year and is indicative of the rising influence that American sports are having on Great Britain as a whole. Some of the nation’s biggest soccer clubs: Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United all have mega-rich US tycoons at the helm. The NBA has caught-on by bringing a preseason game to Manchester earlier in the year whilst the WWE effectively has its own channel on the UK Sky Sports network and hosts regular annual events in the biggest indoor arenas that the nation has to offer.
Now all of a sudden we have not one, not two, but three NFL games taking place inside the national stadium where previously the thought of picking the ball up and throwing it was near blasphemy. Look out Great Britain — the Americans are coming!