American football on the up in Europe

American football first hit the UK TV screens back in 1982 and quickly developed a cult following but it took many more years to reach the levels of popularity seen today.

A one-hour highlights package on a Sunday evening was enough to satiate the appetite 25 years ago but in the modern digital age fans demanded more and that is exactly what they got.

The decision of Sky Sports to screen regular live games throughout the season opened up the sport to a much larger audience and that has spread to other outposts in Europe.

While the UK seems to be the European hotbed for the game termed ‘gridiron’ all those years ago, Germany has also embraced the sport, while there are leagues in most European countries.

There is a historical reason for this as Germans were exposed to the sport after World War II with thousands of US troops stationed in the county, and there is no doubt that the interest continued, albeit as a minority sport which could not hold a candle to the round-ball version of football.

‘Soccer’ is always going to dominate throughout Europe  but the fact that the NFL now stages games to sell-out stadiums in London on a regular basis is testament to how popular the sport is in Britain.

Iconic venues such as Wembley Stadium and Twickenham have been used while Tottenham’s brand new ground will also see shoulder pads and helmets after it opens next year.

The sport’s marketing department has worked wonders and, while it was hard to see any merchandise this side of the Atlantic during the first coming of the sport, most sports shops will now carry team jerseys, caps and tee shirts.

The more people buy into the game, the more they will want to watch and possibly play, while fans who fancy a flutter should check out the latest new bookmakers for all the best sites and prices available on their teams.

The now defunct NFL Europe was an attempt to bring more live action across Europe with teams in London, Scotland Germany, Spain and the Netherlands, but it never really took off as hoped.

American football is played domestically in the UK and Germany, with the British American Football League and the German Football League flying the flag for the game in the two nations.

Participation levels are good and growing in other countries as well but there will always be the battle with the traditional sport of football that is never going to be won.

To many in Europe, America’s game will always be little more than a spectacle, with players wearing helmets and shoulder pads while daubing black paint on their faces viewed as a ‘bit silly’.

However, from the early coverage on Channel 4 fronted by DJ Nicky Horne while practically learning about the game on the job, it is now broadcast with as much professionalism as soccer, with both British and US exerts on hand to give their views.

Ex-Super Bowl winners are regularly seen in the studio and the banter is now aimed at fans who know about the sport and can engage in the debate from their armchairs.

American football struggled to get a foothold in Europe back in the 80s but satellite TV and the internet mean that there is plenty of action and reaction for supporters to feast on, and it is no longer thought of as a private club that only a few who understand the game can converse about.

AFI
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