I sat there with anticipation. It feels almost as if I’m executing a bomb disposal, as the clock edged towards 11:00 o’clock GMT. I’ve carefully planned. I’ve discussed with the resident expert (my wife – a true online shopping professional) about online/ticket purchasing. Nothing can faze me now…
I’m decked out in my Reed 20 jersey and my son has texted me three times from school. I have my third coffee, two bank cards and the research my fellow Ravens and I have studied since the announcement spread out across my desk.
There is a buzz emitting from UK Raven forums unlike I’ve seen. I’ve witnessed the desperation – the demoralizing defeat by the Steelers on Christmas Day. A defeat that still haunts me, a defeat that led to the ‘Christmas Incident’, which is a story for another time.
It all started in December when a friend of a friend informed a UK Raven forum – that someone he knew worked at a hotel in London and that Raven Logistic staff had made a visit. Rumours were rife, the excitement palpable, and it led to an outpouring of emphatic joy as the NFL finally announced its London 2017 fixtures: the Jacksonville Jaguars would play another ‘home’ game in England and this time they would face up against my beloved Baltimore Ravens.
Back to my sofa – the clock strikes eleven and I’m in like a honey badger at feeding time. Pick your seats, yes, enter your NFL priority code, yes… and then nothing – not quite nothing, a digital clock sits despondently in the middle of my laptop screen. Stopping me, denying me my moment of glory.
I return to the forums. It seems that everybody has had the same cunning plan – and we’ve brought the entire world wide web to its knees. Then somebody announces that purchasing a ticket was the easiest thing they’ve ever done…what!
I panic, do I resubmit – do I go against the clock, telling me not to. I must do something surely…
As it happens, my son and I will get to watch our first NFL game, Baltimore Ravens vs. Jacksonville Jaguars… I will unfortunately have to try again in the future as my son supports the “Purple People Eaters” of the North and they will be facing the eternally condemned Cleveland Browns in October.
Fact, the entire ticket allocation for both Jaguars and Dolphins (Miami play New Orleans Saints in October) sold out, phenomenally quick, in hours the cupboard was proverbially bare.
The ferocious need for everything ‘American Football’ has really surprised me over the last few months. There is a thriving memorabilia market, where if you can ascertain quality signed NFL jerseys, a bidding war is certain to follow and profit awaits. Here, in the UK we now have access to more games than ever before, there is no excuse for missing a game. We can have up to five live NFL fixtures over any given weekend.
Once the Ravens game was announced the mood of the forums was revolutionised. UK based fans have always reached out to America for information, searching for any scrap of decent data and analysis. Personally, it has been empowering to engage with American fans as we gleamed. So much enthusiasm and information was exchanged, a new network has evolved and I started to ask myself questions.
In a recent interview, Jags owner, the enigmatic Shahid Khan faced questions about the long term profitability of his franchise – with the threat of dwindling crowds and with the lack of local economic, long term investment in the team hanging over their heads. Could re-location resuscitate the franchise? If so, with their long term profitable relationship with London would he ever contemplate the biggest move of all. He didn’t deny any of the questions which, in its way, promoted the potential that it could very well happen.
Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, stands tall like a King on the chessboard, an omnipotent figure over-lording the sport. However, we’re all aware the Queen (Franchise owners) is the real power behind the throne. The stakeholders are always seeking new revenue strings and a European based franchise would potentially open up a massive market not yet fully exploited by this multi-billion dollar business.
I’m not entirely sure that it could ever happen but it’s a long-term project that should be investigated and discussed thoroughly. There are a hundred reasons to deny this potential expansion, logistics, economic and market competition. The soccer Premier League certainly dominates all other sports within the UK, although initially I’ve been greeted with nothing but positivity up to this point of my investigation on both sides of the Atlantic. However, the biggest challenge would to be establish a strong supporter base within the country of choice.
I recently undertook a poll, a group made up of Raven and Green Bay Packer fans. When questioned only two percent of UK based fans would even contemplate changing their support to a new UK based franchise. The same number of fans also unanimously voted to support and embrace an additional UK based franchise.
What I am sure about is the interest and passion in all things American football is growing at a tremendous rate across Europe. Within the UK over 70 Universities now participate in a form of the sport. Grassroots football under the guidance of the UKAFA (United Kingdom American Football Association) is also increasing with many under 14’s satellite teams evolving from these teams.
That infrastructure needs to grow, we need the players entering the sport now to be vigorously coached and formed into stronger players with sound positional technique that can someday be prepared for the US College recruitment system. Perhaps more partnerships need to be developed via the professional entities of America, coach swapping etc.
Ultimately, it will be down to the NFL. Would the massive dollar investment in every level of the game in the UK, which would be required for it to become a legitimate competitive standalone sports business, be a long-term gamble that the normally reserved NFL would be prepared to undertake?
It’s a debate worth embarking in and it’s a subject that will meet massive resistance in some quarters. In due course, could the NFL and American fans be ready to share their national sport so intimately with another country?
(Writer Phillip Walton will be giving our readers of The Grueling Truth a unique UK perspective on the NFL. Make sure you follow us on twitter @GruelingTruth to keep up to date).