The NFL International Series gets underway this weekend, with the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings clashing at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Over the course of the next two months, a total of 4 games will take place on this side of the Atlantic with the Saints, Vikings, Giants, Packers, Broncos, Jaguars, Seahawks and Buccaneers all travelling. The latter two will face each other in Munich on November 13th. This will be the first ever (regular season) NFL game to take place on German soil and is without a doubt the highlight of the games taking place overseas. Tom Brady and the Buccaneers will be a huge draw for fans in the NFL obsessed country. The Seahawks are also one of the most popular teams in Germany, and are bound to put on a show in what arguably is the headline fixture. It’s also the first European based international fixture to take place outside of the UK, which is testament to the growth in popularity of the game. And unsurprisingly, it’s completely sold out.
While the expansion of the NFL globally is undoubtedly a positive thing for football fans, but I’m still not sold on the concept of the London Games. Yes, they always draw a great crowd and have established a legitimacy as more than just an exhibition, but you don’t get the same atmosphere or buzz and tension as you would at a game in the States. The crowd is a sea of random NFL jerseys, their wearers not necessarily a fan of the teams playing but just there to watch some football for the sake of it. Another big part of an American football game is the tailgate. There’s good food and good craic, and everyone is there supporting one of the teams playing. Now granted it’s been years since I was last at the NFL in London (Steven Jackson was playing for the Rams) but from what I can remember, the pregame vibe outside of Wembley was pretty nonexistent. There were a few stands selling jerseys, a few games and food truck and that was about it.
Another highly questionable element of this year’s NFL international games is the kickoff times. Each of the games will begin at 2 or 2.30pm locally, which is around 9am on the East coast Stateside. We all know that a game played under lights is much more enjoyable than one played in the middle of the afternoon. On top of that, the earlier kick off will more than likely lead to a lower level of viewership in the teams’ home cities. You’d really have to wonder what the NFL were thinking by putting these games on so early.
Anyone who’s been to a big-time football game in America knows that the London games just don’t stack up. It’s not the same at all. I would be keen however to see how the NFL expands into more major European countries in the future. Madrid, Paris and even easter Europe and the Nordics should be considered as possible future venues for international American Football games.
So if you’re heading to London or even Munich between now and Christmas to take in an NFL game, don’t let this get you down. Enjoy it for what it is and if you ever find yourself in the USA in Autumn, do your best to get to a game there. I promise you it will be so much better.