NFL prepares for 1st London game at Twickenham Stadium

Twickenham Stadium has seen its share of tackles and tries, field goals and forward passes.

The NFL is about to bring some more, but with a twist.

A sporting event other than rugby will be held at the venue for the first time in its 107-year history when it hosts a game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Giants on Sunday.

After playing 15 games over 10 years at Wembley Stadium, the league is slightly broadening its international horizons, moving one of its annual international games to a different London location.

Forget about scrums and say hello to huddles. Keep an eye out for yellow flags, not yellow cards.

Even for those who have made the trek to Wembley, Sunday’s game will provide a different type of atmosphere. Think of it, in American terms, as Lambeau Field meets Wrigley Field.

“Twickenham is definitely a suburban, residential venue, and so it offers a very different experience for fans,” said Mark Waller, the NFL’s executive vice president for international. “I think it’s going to be fascinating and interesting for our fans to give us feedback on how that experience will compare to what many of them will already have seen and known at Wembley.”

To prepare Twickenham for Sunday’s game, the NFL and the Rugby Football Union had to make a number of significant changes.

For one, with football rosters twice the size of their rugby counterparts, the existing locker rooms will be insufficient. The Rams, the designated home team, will dress in a temporary facility in the Twickenham gym, while the Giants will utilize an adjacent reception hall.

The coaching booths, located just above the access tunnels for rugby games, will be moved to the sixth level to provide coaches with an appropriate viewpoint. Those converted suites also will need to be fitted with replay and communications systems – something the NFL and RFU have been working to install.

Accommodations will also be needed for cheerleaders and the media, who will work from three sections in the southwest corner. Because of the stadium’s location, a detailed transportation plan is also needed for buses transporting players and team personnel to and from Twickenham.

Some of those changes will be noticeable to longtime Twickenham attendees. In addition to the goal posts, which were installed last Monday, and the field markings, to be painted later this week, the capacity of the stadium will be reduced from 82,000 to 75,000 for NFL games.

According to Charlotte Harwood, an RFU spokeswoman, that’s because views from the front several rows of the lower bowl rise just above field level and will be obstructed by players and coaches on the sidelines.

The goal, of course, is to make sure that any potential issues have been addressed by Sunday. Those attending the first games at Wembley – the Giants, coincidentally, played in the first game in London in 2007 – reported a number of hiccups that were ironed out in subsequent years.

Waller said the RFU’s experience hosting the semifinals and final of the Rugby World Cup in 2015, has eased a number of concerns about the venue.

“It’s an important event for them in the same way that it’s an important event for us,” Waller said. “They’re very focused on it being successful as well.”

The Rams, who flew through the night after a 31-28 road loss to the Detroit Lions, arrived in London early Monday. Per the terms of their relocation from St. Louis, they will play at least one home game in London every year until their new stadium opens in 2019.

That game is not guaranteed to always be at Twickenham. The league and the RFU reached an agreement last October to play a minimum of three games in three years at the venue, but not necessarily one each season.

The NFL also has agreements to play at least two games at Wembley each year through 2020 and will begin playing at least two games a year at the redeveloped White Hart Lane, the home of English Premier League club Tottenham, beginning in 2018.

Thus, how successful Sunday’s game is could play a role in the NFL’s future at Twickenham. Waller said the league isn’t considering games at any other venues in London, and the reason Twickenham and White Hart Lane were contracted is because Wembley hosts a number of other events.

“The most exciting thing for us is the ability for us to get a new experience, a new stadium experience,” Waller said. “We’re very happy and have always been very happy with Wembley, and so for us, it’s never been about looking for something better than Wembley. It’s, ‘Hey, we need to give our fans the best experience available.'”

Source: Associated Press

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