Wembley will host the first of three London games on Sunday and the NFL believes the prospect of a permanent London franchise is now moving closer to reality
The figures are almost as dizzying as a crunching helmet-to-helmet hit from a 300lb defensive lineman. On Sunday 84,000 people will pack Wembley when the Seattle Seahawks take on the Oakland Raiders, making it the sporting event with the largest attendance in Britain this weekend.
The same will be true next Sunday when the Tennessee Titans face the Los Angeles Chargers. And the week after the Jacksonville Jaguars return to London to play the Philadelphia Eagles, last seasons Super Bowl champions.
That is 250,000 bums on seats, each paying between 50 and 500 a head, bringing in 25m in gate receipts. And while some will be enjoying the jumbo-finger-waving, XXL-jersey-over-hoodie-wearing, Lite-beer-slurping experience for the first time, a record 47,000 hardcore fans have bought a season ticket to all three London games.
No wonder Mark Waller, a senior NFL executive, sniffs something in the air. When we first came to the UK in 2007 it was a great day but it didnt feel completely like the real thing, he says. Now London games have gone from being a novelty to an authentic part of the NFL calendar.
Next year there will be four NFL games two at Wembley and two at Spurs new ground and with the Jaguars owner Shahid Khan close to buying Wembley the pieces are fast falling into place for a London franchise, possibly as soon as 2022.
We are definitely nearer than ever, says Waller, the NFL executive vice-president of events and international. The keys for the NFL are: first, is there fan demand to sustain it, and for me the answer is a clear yes. And second, do we have the stadium capacity, availability and optionality to accommodate our games? The fact there is Wembley, Tottenham and Twickenham ticks that box. Having support from sponsors and the government is vital too.
The NFL backs up its case with research showing nearly four million people in Britain self-identify as avid fans double that of six years ago and says that Sky and BBCs viewing figures are also healthier than ever. However, as Waller points out, it needs one of the leagues 32 owners to make a London franchise a reality. It is not a linear process, he adds. The market is ready. The work is being done. Now it just needs the pieces to fall into place, which is predominately going to be owner driven.
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