Staging the NFL at Wembley is a start, but the future of American Football in the UK lies with the kids
Unlike bubblegum, Jimi Hendrix and the Geller siblings and co, American sport has not enjoyed a sustained level of success in Britain.
The four majority sports from across the Atlantic; Basketball, Ice Hockey, American Football and Baseball, have never truly had a major following in this country with only short flirtations being the most affection we offer these sports that dominate the US throughout the year.
Of these four American Football is the only one that is truly seeking to gain a stranglehold on the attention of the British sporting public and, as Wembley prepares to host an NFL regular season game for a sixth year running, the game is slowly featuring more prominently in the UK.
Drew Anderson is the lead co-ordinator of British American Football National Leagues and feels that an organisation already boasting a large number of teams from numerous age groups requires only one more ingredient to be a permanent fixture amongst Brits.
“Publicity. Simple as that,” informed Anderson. “We just can’t get enough publicity and as an amateur organisation we cant afford TV ads or anything like that.”
The problem of exposure is a prominent one but having enough participants involved isn’t one the BAFANL have any issues in correcting. Drew, who got into American Football when he saw his beloved Chicago Bears win the Super Bowl in 1985, explains how there is a growing list of members in a sport that continues to develop at grass roots level.
“People are becoming more and more aware of it and we grow, on average, about two or three teams a year. Last year we saw over thirty brand new under-17 and junior teams and we’ll see double that in youth and junior next year. That’s the important thing, it’s great to see adults playing but, I know it’s a real cliché, the future really is in the kids.”
Having NFL teams perform in this country each year and seeing youngsters turn their hand to American Football is a sign of progression for the sport but having British representation in America is a particular aim for Andrews. It’s something that already shows signs of becoming a reality.
“There are English kids going off to play football in the States now. We get colleges regularly contacting us asking if we’ve got any prospects because we supply more kids to American colleges than any other country in the world,” proudly states Andrews. “There’s a guy from Sussex called Tom Wort who’s playing for one of the big college teams (Oklahoma Sooners) at linebacker and there’s lots of kids who have done well. We’ve also got academies in the UK that are playing NCAA football against Americans down in Bristol. The more we see of that, especially the NFL and the international series, we’re going to see more and more kids from here going over there.”
Even during the international series games at Wembley there is British involvement close at hand.
“Our officials have got a fabulous reputation around the world. We have officials from the UK at every international series game working the sidelines and I don’t know of anywhere else that does that, certainly not over in Europe.”
While excited at the prospect of witnessing NFL action up close on a more regular basis, Wembley will continue to stage games till 2016, having the game in this country shown in different continents is just as big an aim.
“We live streamed The Britbowl, which is our Superbowl type event, for the first time ever and at one point we had people from every continent in the world watching. It was only a test but it was astronomical. We had over 6,000 brand new hits to the website and we had over 2,000 independent viewers from around the world. Things like that are really heart-warming, you just know that you’re getting things right.”
With involvement progressing at all age ranges, continued yearly access to NFL professionals and an influx of Brits in the college game and hopefully beyond, what are the chances of a franchise parking up in the UK?
“There have been talks about a ten year plan to try and get an English franchise and part of the reason for this international series is to test the water. Next year there will be two games which should increase interest but will there be a franchise in London? It’d be fabulous, who knows.”Tagged in: NFL, Wembley
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