26 Oct 2007
So, the Giants and the Dolphins are playing at Wembley. We all know by now that the stadium could, allegedly, have been sold out five times over, but 500,000 ticket requests, whilst a nice number, is probably not what the NFL has in mind for a country of 60 million. So, with that in mind, I took a look at the level of coverage around the national British media -- or more specifically, their websites.
The game itself is being shown live on satellite network Sky Sports, and they've added several preview programs to their weekly NFL schedule to cover this week's game in more detail. Strangely, Sky's News International stable-mate in the newspaper world, the populist Sun (Britain's biggest selling daily, with a circulation c. 3,200,000), remained quiet about the NFL until today, when it broke its silence by talking to Cam Cameron about the attraction of violent sports in terms which will keep both Sun readers and TWIQ czar Ben Riley happy. Joining the Sun in providing only minor coverage is the rival Mirror, which aside from mentioning that the game is on and that the Dolphins are bad only takes the time to talk about Jay Feely's soccer-playing days. The more upmarket Independent carried reports on the last week's games, but makes no mention of the London event.
The outlets which cover the game to a greater extent all seem to feel obligated to talk about how bad Miami is. The Telegraph quotes Don Shula calling the Fins' performance "uncharacteristic", a euphemism I personally want to see more of. The BBC has gone so far as to open a debate on how the Dolphins might manage to contrive a win in London (the most popular suggestion seems to involve activating the 28-foot Jason Taylor statue currently in Trafalgar Square, and lining him up across from the real Taylor). Connoisseurs of FO's FOX comment threads, if such things exist, may wish to compare and contrast with the BBC's. The BBC is also showing highlights of the game on "terrestrial" free-to-air television, after which it will gently forget about the NFL until the Super Bowl, which it shows live.
The next most popular tactic seems to involve interviewing a receiver on Miami's practice squad. Former Rhein Fire standout Marvin Allen is distinguished in few aspects other than being British, but this enough for
the Telegraph, Guardian and Times to devote significant space to
interviewing him (with Cam Cameron filling in obligatory positive comments). Charitably, none of the papers mentions that Allen is part of the International Player Development Program (I am clearly not so kind-hearted) and thus doesn't count towards Miami's practice squad roster limit. He can't be activated even if the Fins want to, making his status even less exalted than that of your average practice squad scrub. At the other end of the importance spectrum, the Telegraph and the Guardian also run interviews with Jason Taylor, self-proclaimed NFL "ambassador" to the UK. The Times has a feature on grassroots American Football in the UK (well, half of it seems to be on grassroots cheerleading in the UK, but the thought is clearly there).
A player who has been almost conspicuously absent from the buildup is Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, born in London and raised there until the age of seven -- a fact I'd expected to have become as ubiquitous as the origin of Jerome Bettis. (Hey, did you know he was born in Detroit?) By most reports, Umenyiora's personality isn't best suited to the task of figurehead -- inasmuch as words like "unassuming" are ever associated with a defensive end, they frequently attach themselves to him. He is interviewed in the Daily Mail, and professes to remember London in only the vaguest terms, but the British have adopted more unlikely sporting heroes in the past.
Most of the newspapers which have any significant coverage include a speculative article discussing the NFL's prospects in Britain, and the tone is usually pessimistic. I generally agree -- the sports which are popular on multiple continents are generally traveling circus affairs (ATP Tour, Formula One, etc.) as opposed to leagues such as the NFL -- and the limited success of European soccer leagues outside Europe is not based on playing league games in far-flung locations. The Guardian wins extra points by including a helpful "Eight reasons why you have heard of the NFL" which may cause Roger Goodell to choke on his tea. There is also speculation as to whether the Premiership will eventually return the favor, though the league offices seem at best lukewarm on the idea, pointing out that the home-and-away nature of soccer leagues makes neutral site games more awkward.
Overall, it's hard to escape the impression that much of British sports journalism doesn't care for this colonial interloper, and the remainder that does is struggling for an angle -- hence the celebration of a practice squad receiver who isn't even going to see a sideline this year unless some unforeseen calamity occurs. The NFL's international office doubtless sees a promising start, but when even Britain's native sports are struggling to maintain interest and coverage in the face of the 800-pound gorilla of the Premiership, what chance the newcomer?
42 comments, Last at 29 Oct 2007, 2:20pm by Mike Carlson
Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?