Since the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants played at Wembley in 2007, among other top-selling games in stadia across London, there’s been tentative talk of the NFL either expanding to incorporate a franchise in the capital or relocating an existing US team to the UK to cash in on the game’s growing fan base here.
British sports fans have flirted with American football before. The game enjoyed a spike in popularity when Channel 4 showed NFL highlights in the 1980s, but experiments such as the World League and NFL Europe – featuring teams such as the Barcelona Dragons, Frankfurt Galaxy and London Monarchs – fell by the wayside in the 1990s. So why is the game enjoying a resurgence in popularity now?
“As our fascination with American politics grows, so do does our interest in US sports,” says Dom Collingwood, co-founder of MatchPint. “What’s the bigger factor: Donald Trump, Tom Brady, or LeBron James? Perhaps it’s the politicisation of sport, the crossing of boundaries that entices us: the #takeaknee movement, or Steph Curry (a star player with NBA team the Golden State Warriors) refusing his invite to the White House. Either way, the NFL is growing and the Super Bowl is a great opportunity to boost sales.”
Tracy Harrison, director of marketing at Sky Business, adds: “As the biggest sport in America, it’s brought a new dimension to the UK sporting scene and viewers all around the country appear to embrace this fast-paced and action-packed sport, which is perfect for pubs. While it may be deemed by some a niche sport, at Sky we believe that showing NFL is an opportunity for licensees to set themselves apart from the competition.”
With 10 of the 14 games played in London over the past decade selling out, the NFL love-in shows no sign of abating and British pubs are primed to reap the rewards.
Collingwood says: “This isn’t new news. A report by MatchPint and CGA in 2016 showed that showing the Super Bowl is worth more than £1,000 per site on average. It’s a long game, about four hours, meaning people want to eat.” American-themed food such as hot dogs, nachos, wings, burgers and ribs can provide good profit margins, he says, recommending pubs serve food that can be ordered throughout the night to help maximise the opportunity.
He maintains that NFL in pubs is “a growing opportunity”, adding: “Searches for pubs showing NFL on MatchPint have grown 178% year on year since 2013 making it the fastest-growing sport behind boxing in the UK pub world.
“The even better news is that it’s driven by younger customers, with 16.7% of 18 to 35-year-old sports fans saying they’d like to watch NFL in the pub, which is far higher than among older fans.”
Super Bowl fever
If the numbers aren’t enough, the spectacle of last season’s nail biting final between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons is reason enough for publicans to consider getting behind the NFL.
The Patriots sealed their fifth Super Bowl triumph – a haul second only to that of the Pittsburgh Steelers – by pulling off one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history, rallying from 28-3 down to beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime. It was effectively America’s version of Liverpool’s Champions League win in Istanbul to topple AC Milan for their fifth continental title – only with less gloating and fewer fan-made murals of Rafael Benitez.
The lowdown - Super bowl LII
Who - New England Patriots v Philadelphia Eagles
Where – US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota
When – 4 February 2018, kick-off 11.30pm (GMT)
Half-time show – Justin Timberlake
Runtime – Approximately four hours
According to Harrison, last year’s showpiece marked yet another leap forward in the game’s UK popularity. “The match itself attracted almost 400,000 viewers, which is up 25% compared to the Super Bowl in 2015,” she says. “In addition to this, more people watched the Super Bowl last year than the Champion’s League match between Manchester City and Monaco which was aired that same month.”
But how can pubs take advantage of this, and, in the case of the early adopters, continue to do so?
Paul Eastwood, general manager of the Famous Three Kings, in Fulham, west London, is one such early adopter. The winner of the Great British Pub Awards’ prize for Best Sport Pub in both 2016 and 2017 highlights American football as “the growth sport in the UK”.
“A lot of people are catching up so we have to do something a little bit different every time to stay ahead of the game,” he says.
“Obviously, with it being late at night we do need to know how many people we’ve got coming in. What we tend to do is split the pub in half – the back area is ticketed with table service all night – but we also have a little area for walk-ins so anyone can buy a ticket on the night. We got about 300 people overall last year.”
Above and beyond
The Super bowl diet
Alongside Independence Day and Thanksgiving, Super Bowl Sunday is one of the biggest days on the American culinary calendar.
With the appetite for the game growing on this side of The Pond, here are the mind, and belly, blowing numbers from the Stateside audience:
- 325m gallons of beer are drunk on Super Bowl Sunday (source – Stevens Institute of Technology, 2014)
- 1.3bn chicken wings are eaten (source – The National Chicken Council)
- Americans eat 8m pounds of guacamole (source – Chicago Now)
- During the week leading up to the Super Bowl, wine sales in the United States are, on average, 9% more than the average of the three weeks prior
- During the same period spirit sales are about 11% higher (source – Nielsen)
- Viewers of Super Bowl 50 (2016) spent on average $82.19 (almost £61) on food, decor and team apparel (source – Fox News)
- Domino’s predicted it would sell five times as much pizza – almost 12m slices – on Super Bowl Sunday 2016 compared to a regular Sunday (source – National Restaurant Association)
Eastwood admits they do a few gimmicky things to entice fans.
“This year we’re looking to have a photo booth with a few props. Last year, we did free bags of popcorn on the table with little American flags,” he says.
“It’s all about building the atmosphere and going above what people would normally expect.”
Harrison adds: “The NFL Sunday evening slot is great for landlords looking to attract customers at a traditionally quieter time or to extend football fans’ Sunday evenings, enjoying sport in the pub.
“American food and drink is the perfect accompaniment to an NFL match. Beer bottles in ice buckets; those one-hander sub sandwiches; burgers; hot-dogs and even boxes of popcorn are all winners and will help to create a great experience for customers and encourage them to return for next week’s NFL instalment.
“Creating an NFL ‘moment’ or event is easy to do and it all helps to give people an extra reason to head to the pub.”