Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why London?

Later today, the Patriots will be on their way to London. They'll be practicing at a cricket field, and playing in a soccer stadium. This is part of the NFL's latest attempt to globalize their game. And it will also be their latest failure. Outside of the US, there just simply isn't demand or even room for American football.

Remember NFL Europe? Rohan Davey does. Teams in London, Spain, Scotland, Germany, and the Netherlands. By the end of the now defunct League, 5 of the 6 teams were German, the only country that seemed to develop any sort of fan following. Even there, most of the fans in attendance were transplanted Americans who worked or studied abroad and wanted to enjoy their nation's sports in another language.

England is the wrong place to try American football. The NFL thinks the game will translate there because the language already does. But ask Finnish hockey players, Chinese basketball players and Cuban baseball players if language matters in the globalization of a sport.

The NFL will point to the popularity of rugby in the UK as a reason to market American football there. To me, that's more of a seat-taken kind of sign, rather than a seat-open sign. If British sports fans want a hard-hitting game, they'll watch rugby. In fact, most Brits consider football to be slow-paced, because of all the stoppages. Europeans are accustomed to sports that rarely stop. That's why hockey and basketball have flourished there.

If the NFL wants to market in Europe, it should play games in Germany, not Britain. The Germans showed the most interest in NFL Europe. Germans like Sebastian Vollmer are gradually becoming part of the NFL. Germans don't have a physical sport of their own like rugby to play/watch. And unlike other Europeans, Germans love things that are efficiently planned and rigidly timed. NFL games are efficiently planned and rigidly timed.

And you know what, you don't need to play a game in Britain or Germany in order to get people to notice you. With global communications today, anyone everywhere can watch any sport they want. So just pay some popular German TV station to broadcast one NFL game a week. If it catches on, the station might start to pay the NFL.

But in the end, football will never be a popular sport worldwide. It's funny how it is the dominant #1 in the US, while the rest of the Big Four sports do much better abroad (basketball in 6 continents, hockey in Eastern and Northern Europe, and baseball in the Caribbean and Pacific Rim).

The world knows about American football, and few care. And I don't care that they don't care. That is until my team has to go to England to play in a promotional game that will ultimately be a marketing failure.

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