How does American football line up for British fans?
As Super Bowl LV rolls around at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on 7th February, millions of people around the world will eagerly watch America’s biggest game.
Despite the late Sunday night kick-off time, hundreds of thousands of these will be British NFL fans, tuning in to the game and having a wager on the outcome on live betting sites like Unibet. But what do the British really make of American Football and will the game ever truly catch on across the pond?
American Football in Britain
American football arrived in Britain with the US and Canadian troops, who were stationed there during WW2, but the game never really took hold. It wasn’t until Channel Four started showing games in the early eighties that British fans started to watch, and understand the game. It was an instant hit, with four million people watching Super Bowl XX by 1986.
Since then, it has grown steadily, with the BBC now showing several live games, including the Super Bowl each year. The NFL Show
The international series
American football has become so popular in Britain that the NFL plays several games each season in London. These games take place at iconic venues, including the home of soccer, Wembley Stadium, the headquarters of England Rugby at Twickenham, and Tottenham Hotspur’s brand new $1bn stadium in the capital.
The city has hosted all but one of the 32 NFL teams throughout 28 games. In fact, Jacksonville Jaguars consider themselves to be London’s ‘home team’, with no less than 11% of all Jags revenue coming from their London Series Games.
What do the Brits think?
While there are many fans of American football in Britain, there are just as many who are confused by the game. One of the biggest problems is the name; football, or soccer as the Americans call it, is almost a religion in Britain yet it has nothing to do with the gridiron. Talk about football with a Brit and they will assume you mean a kickabout with a round ball.
A second major issue many British sports fans have with American football is the stop-start nature of the action. They struggle with the overall length of a match that sees just an hour’s play taking 3-4hours to complete. This may sound arrogant coming from a country that loves cricket – a five-day game that can still end in a draw – but compared to soccer or rugby, American football can seem very splintered with no flow to it.
Part of the problem is that Brits tend to draw parallels with sports that they do understand, such as comparing American football to rugby union. In rugby, there is no heavy padding for players, lots of hard tackling and constant action, with everything over in 80 minutes or so.
Rugby fans often look at American players as less brave or less macho, as runners fly past them untouched and un-tackled. To the British eye, NFL players spend far too long resting on the bench rather than taking part in the action.
Of course, the two games are completely different beyond the shape of the ball and the goalposts. American football is often described as more like an elaborate game of chess, while rugby can seem more like a disorganized fight with a ball. Rugby league is a little closer in its stop-start style, but the differences are still huge.
Inevitably, like so many other things in the world, the Americanisation of sports will become the accepted norm.
Britain already has its own American Football Association, with a series of leagues culminating in the Brit Bowl, and the game continues to grow in popularity year after year. Whether the British will ever accept calling the game ‘football’ on the other hand, is far less likely.