NFL London was back with a bang this year as the UK’s NFL fans were treated to entertaining fixtures in both Week 5 and 6 of the 2021/22 season.
The Week 5 matchup saw the Atlanta Falcons triumph 27-20 over the New York Jets, while the Week 6 matchup was won by the Jacksonville Jaguars, who beat the Miami Dolphins 23-20.
This was Jacksonville’s eighth London fixture, and they currently hold a win rate of 0.5 with four wins in the NFL London series since 2007. They have hosted a game in London every year since 2013 and are in a “10-year agreement”, with further commitments to London looking likely due to owner Shad Khan’s interest in the NFL UK market. Khan also owns England-based football club Fulham FC.
Despite the Jaguars’ frequent appearances in London, this year it was second overall pick Jets quarterback Zach Wilson who topped jersey sales in the UK.
The pair of fixtures were held in Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this year, though both Wembley and Twickenham Stadium have also hosted NFL games in the past.
Despite the games being televised by the BBC, they still yielded individual attendances of over 60,000 – though some of the Wembley fixtures have had bigger audiences at over 80,000.
The London games were withdrawn due to the pandemic last year. Four NFL games (with two including the Jaguars) were set to be played in London during the 2020/21 season. However, they were all cancelled even though the league managed to have a complete season.
The NFL London series runs on a yearly basis and has been running since 2007. Its popularity has increased vastly as the NFL’s fanbase has become more global over the last two decades.
Alongside the London fixtures, the BBC’s The NFL Show and NFL This Week are also well-run and popular among the UK audience. Hosted by Dan Walker and featuring Osi Umenyiora and Jason Bell as the NFL “experts”, the show is accessible and has seen rising success over the last few years. The same crew also hosts the BBC’s coverage of the Super Bowl annually.
In terms of furthering their outreach, the NFL are also in the process of organising a fixture in Germany, the cities currently in the final selection are Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich as the NFL looks to expand further into their wide German market.
The league has also capitalised on its audience in Mexico, albeit more inconsistently. There have been three Mexico games since 2016, after a successful “inaugural” fixture in 2005.
Canada, Brazil, the Republic of Ireland, China and Australia are among the countries that the NFL could look to expand their brand in over the next decade.
The London Franchise
Khan’s London agenda has led to speculation of the Jaguars moving to London to form an NFL franchise.
While it seems unfeasible to have a team abroad, the logistics are not as crazy as it would seem given how geographically large the USA is anyway.
The NFL continue to work towards the potential for a “London franchise”, though nothing has been confirmed yet and there is no formal timetable.
However, it is widely believed that the NFL is currently using the NFL London series as a “testing ground” for the new London franchise.
The NFL’s International Athletes
The NFL’s global expansion of its brand comes at a time when the number of international athletes in the league is starting to increase. Former rugby union player Christian Wade and defensive end Efe Obada, both UK nationals, are currently on the books of the Bills. Jamie Gillan, nicknamed the “Scottish Hammer”, is the Bills' starting punter.
The increase in international players paved the way for the NFL’s International Player Pathway, which started in 2016 after an unsuccessful scheme of similar concept between 2004 and 2009.
Every year, each team from a division is assigned a player from the successful cohort from the scheme. The Dallas Cowboys’ Isaac Alarcón’s journey can be followed on Hard Knocks, and it is evident how much it means to these international players to even have a chance to make an active roster in the NFL.
Not only do these players diversify the league, but they also enlarge the market. While players such as Obada and Moritz Böhringer are not household names in the NFL currently, they are highly recognisable names to the UK and Germany NFL fan bases respectively.