NFL in the UK
The recently introduced regular season games played in the UK as part of the NFL International series is not the first time that pro football from across the Atlantic has touched down on these shores. During the 1980s, American Football enjoyed unprecedented levels of success within the United Kingdom, largely thanks to the television station Channel 4. They became the first channel to broadcast NFL games on terrestrial television shortly after launching in 1982, giving British sports fans the opportunity to witness the excitement that American Football had to offer.
As a result, the popularity of American Football in the UK and Ireland enjoyed huge growth throughout the decade, with many supporters adopting teams from the NFL to followand support on TV each week. Due to the success of teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins during the decade, many British fans still follow these teams now as a result of the early TV coverage of the sport.
As the popularity of the sport continued to grow, the NFL introduced the American Bowl series in 1986. The American Bowl involved a number of NFL teams playing a pre season game played outside of the USA for the first time, allowing, fans from new markets to enjoy the live game day experience. Countries who hosted American Bowl games included the United Kingdom, Ireland, Japan, Germany and Spain.
The last American Bowl game played in Europe was in 1997 when the Pittsburgh Steelers took on the Chicago Bears at Croke Park in Dublin. A total of nine American Bowl games took place between 1986 and 1997 in the UK and Ireland involving 14 NFL Franchises.
NFL Touches Down in the UK
|3rd August 1986 Wembley Stadium||Chicago Bears 17 v Dallas Cowboys 6|
|9th August 1987 Wembley Stadium||LA Rams 28 v Denver Broncos 27|
|31st July 1988 Wembley Stadium||Miami Dolphins 27 v San Francisco 49ers 21|
|6th August 1989 Wembley Stadium||Philadelphia Eagles 17 v Cleveland Browns 13|
|5th August 1990 Wembley Stadium||New Orleans Saints 17 v LA Raiders 10|
|28th July 1991 Wembley Stadium||Buffalo Bills 17 v Philadelphia Eagles 13|
|16th August 1992 Wembley Stadium||San Francisco 49ers 17 v Washington Redskins 15|
|8th August 1993 Wembley Stadium||Dallas Cowboys 13 v Detroit Lions 13|
|27th July 1997 Croke Park, Dublin||Pittsburgh Steelers 30 v Chicago Bears 17|
In total, eight games were played at Wembley Stadium as part of the series, with 13 different teams appearing in front of sell out crowds of 80,000 on each occasion. The American Bowl series was a great opportunity for European based fans to get to see a live game and enjoying seeing their heroes and many (now) hall of fame NFL players in action.
Despite criticisms surrounding the competitiveness of the NFL games played at Wembley Stadium during 1980s and 90s, because they were "friendlies", the majority of fans enjoyed the spectacle that they offered and were disappointed to see the end of the American Bowl in Britain in 1993.
Second Coming of the NFL in the UK
American Football has remained popular in the UK thanks to TV coverage and the internet. However, it is only since the turn of the new millennium that American Football in the UK has really begun to enjoy the levels of popularity that it enjoyed during the 80s.
Coverage of live games on Sky Sports has been the single biggest driving force behind the NFL enjoying a "second coming" in the UK with a minimum of six live games shown each week during the regularly season, showing more when the schedule dictates games on days other than Sundays and Mondays.
The live coverage on Sky Sports is complimented with several news and highlight shows from the NFL Network in the USA.
Channel 5, Channel 4, ESPN and the BBC have also had a part to play in the sports recent growth as they too show or had shown coverage of the NFL.
It is this increased coverage and rapid expansion of the market for the NFL in the UK and Europe that has seen the NFL introduce the International Series at Wembley Stadium. The new concept of playing regular season games in the UK until 2016 is better than the previous American Bowls, allowing fans to enjoy the excitement and game day experience as it would be in the USA, from tailgate parties outside the Stadium through to the Cheerleaders and uncompromised plays of a meaningful game on the football field.