Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

26 Oct 2007

UK Media Wrap: Does Anybody Really Care?

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?

Posted by: Stuart Fraser on 26 Oct 2007

42 comments, Last at 29 Oct 2007, 2:20pm by Mike Carlson


by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 2:33pm

One of the Guardian's eight reasons you might have heard of the NFL is this
"The town of Ismay, Montana changed its name to Joe as a publicity stunt in honour of the KANSAS CITY QUARTERBACK LEGEND"

No mention of San Francisco!!!!!!!

It is safe to assume that noone on the Guardian knows anything about american football.

by mmm... sacrilicious (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 2:51pm

#1 - the only thing I can think of is that he was on the Chiefs in 1993...

by sundown (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 3:01pm

Worthwhile article, injecting some realism into the ridiculous overseas debate. "There's been 500,000 requests for tickets!" Great. But the circus sells out, too.

The NFL is totally clueless in their overseas strategy, as witnessed by how they talk out of both sides of their mouth. NFL Europe gets folded, but they're open to having a Super Bowl overseas? Yeah, that's well thought out.

by Alan Milnes (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 3:05pm

NFL Europe folded because it's not the NFL. This is totally different, as my two $200 tickets are telling me :-) We'll see what the coverage is like over the weekend. (Nice article by the way).

by Richie (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 3:15pm

pointing out that the home-and-away nature of soccer leagues makes neutral site games more awkward.

I am not familiar with soccer. What does this mean?

by Ferg (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 3:24pm

5: In most soccer leagues, every team plays every other team twice, home and away. So moving one game overseas gives the team losing the home game a big disadvantage. It would sort of be like moving one division game overseas but not the other.

by Larry (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 3:29pm

pointing out that the home-and-away nature of soccer leagues makes neutral site games more awkward.

Soccer pays a complete double round-robin. So, each team plays every other team at home and away. That makes a fully balanced schedule, and any single neutral site game would put the team losing a home game at a distinct disadvantage for the season. The Dolphins are disadvantaged here, but schedule strength is more variable in the NFL anyway, and there are playoffs as well.

Of course, I still think the Dolphins are getting the shaft here.

by Richie (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 3:36pm

Luckily for the Dolphins this is a lost season anyway, so from a competitive standpoint the loss of a home game doesn't matter much.

I'm guessing Huizenga is going to do just fine financially as well.

by MET (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 3:37pm

The BBC had a feature on their Inside Sports programme the other night and the highlights they are showing are the only NFL action on the BBC as the Super Bowl is shown live on a rival channel, ITV. Channel Five who show all Monday night games travelled to Atlanta for the Falcons Giants Monday night game and featured lots of interveiws with the Giants players

by mark (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 3:55pm

The coverage of NFL in the UK is fantastic. SKY will show over 125 Live games this season, which is more than the number of Premiership 'Soccer' games they show Live.

If you want a true picture of how strong NFL support is in the UK look at the NFLUK.com website.

As for press coverage, look again at the weekend and I'm sure you will see more in-depth and positive coverage.

Hopefully this game will bring back UK fans who watched in the Eighties (like myself) but lost interest when TV coverage was very poor. At the moment, coverage and support has never been better.

by sundown (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 4:12pm

I think the round robin comment was a polite way for the soccer people to say "We have no interest playing in America." And that shows how much clearer their thinking is than the NFL. If you have no residual benefit (like an NFL Europe or some other ongoing local presence) it doesn't do much for you to have a game overseas.

And one major problem is the teams will never like these games. Why would they? Instead of driving to the stadium the Miami guys are flying across the ocean. If they want to see Big Ben they'd go with the family over the offseason.

by CA (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 4:16pm

My guess is that a lot of British sports fans couldn't care less about this game or are mildly curious at best. However, there seems to be a minority of British sports fans who are enthusiastic about this event. The mainstream media, in America and abroad, rarely are good at covering phenomena of the sort where some are passionate but most are indifferent. Yes, some people really care. No, that group doesn't include members of the mainstream British media.

by UK-Phil (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 4:41pm

I'm going along, with my kids, as a friend offered me tickets. However I'm a Pats fan so I'm going along more for the spectacle than anything else on this occasion. I think that is probably the case for a lot of people. I've been over to the US to watch the Pats (and met TB and the team etc) unlike a lot of people here but I would say that I wouldn't probably go to a game next year unless it was the Pats. Wembley is a right pain to get to.

I think a lot of the demand was because for most people this is their first (if not only) chance to see an NFL game. They may not be so enthusiastic about it in future. However most of those people are NFL fans, indeed the Dolphin fans I know are less keen lately than before for obvious reasons and many may try and shift their tickets.

You are probably going to see a pretty unique crowd there on Sunday, minority Giants and Dolphin fans, majority fans of other teams, with a significant element of people like my kids who've never even watched a full NFL game on TV before. Though my son and I go along to watch the Bristol team when we can and my daughter has spent the week making a paper mache Dolphin hat!

On a related note, though this should probably be on quotes thread. I've just watched NFL Today where Rich Eisen was saying about the 'fins having won zero games, or 'zed' as the British say'. Er no Rich, we say zero too. 'Zed' is the letter after 'Y'! Maybe he was thinking of 'nought', who knows!

by Paul (London,UK) (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 5:12pm

The fan base in the UK is incredibly enthisiastic but very small. Unfortunately most people in the UK couldn't care less about the NFL.

The ridiculous amounts of commercial breaks don't help and there seems to be a cultural difference that stops American Football catching on in the UK in the same way that Soccer has never become a mainstream spectator sport in the US. I'm not sure this will ever change but I remain hopeful if not optimistic.

Sky have a lot of content showing two live games on Sunday with the option of two other games as an alternative via an interactive option. In addition, they show SNF and MNF live plus NFL Total Access daily and America's Game which is superb.

The downside is Sky also have the buffoon Halling as an analyst as well as ex-players who, with the exception of Sean Gayle, have no credibility.

Channel 5 is light years ahead having no commercial breaks and a brilliant analyst in Mike Carlson.

I'm going to the game Sunday but the prices are ridiculous and it will be interesting to compare the experience with my recent visit to Candlestick.

I'm just hoping for the Dolphins to surprise everybody with an upset.

by Kyle, Glasgow (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 6:42pm

Can I just echo what Paul says above, while sky might show an overwheliming quantiy of game their coverage leaves alot to be desired and reguarly makes the Monday night team in the US look competent.

I am choosing not to go to this game due to the fact that when the Teams were announced I knew I would have no interest in seeing either of them but I knew that many people would go simply for the novelty of seeing an NFL game in the UK. This would not be a continuious effect though, if there was one every year I would expect the attendence to drop off.

by asp_j (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 6:56pm

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

I don't know, the NHL and especially the NBA might bed to differ...

by Barbrady (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 7:46pm

Have to say that I've seen Channing Crowder's "hiliarious" ironic comments printed a couple of times in the media over here, invariably accompanied by a "yes, Americans are this dumb" comment. If the purpose of this game was to cement old and dearly held stereotypes about the US, then we're off to a flyer.

by Matt (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 9:10pm

A good piece and some fair comments. The media coverage here has been poor, but that has washed over most sports fans here since they have no idea about football. Trotting out Marvin Allen was a very poor effort but made easy copy. I suppose the hacks weren't helped by the teams (understandable) late arrival here.

The game on Sunday will be a success and there a large number of people here for whom it is a huge deal. However at this stage that is all that can be expected. The game is growing in the UK, but that is a very long term project. On a short term commercial basis there are enough football fans here to keep the NFL execs happy. I think it is important to remember this is very much uncharted territory, previous games here and NFL Europe/a have been poor products. Sunday and another game next year could hugely increase the relevance of the game here - and may even result in a little less lazy journalism.

Lastly, I couldn't agree more about Halling. Hail Carlson...

by mm (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 9:59pm

"I am choosing not to go to this game due to the fact that when the Teams were announced I knew I would have no interest in seeing either of them but I knew that many people would go simply for the novelty of seeing an NFL game in the UK. This would not be a continuious effect though, if there was one every year I would expect the attendence to drop off."

You know, if the NFL said it would have a regular season game between random teams every year in a city here in the states I'd expect pretty much the same reaction. The first year would be a sellout, but years afterward it would be less of an event, and people would only go if they felt a connection to one of the 2 teams playing. This would be different if they would show the same team every year (like Buffalo wants to do with Toronto) so the community could build a rooting interest in one team.

If they're only going to do 2 games a year (and not all in Europe), they can spread it around and not come back to London for another 4 years or more, so it might again be an 'event' when it returns. However, I think this is something the NFL can only plan on doing for so long before it has to decide if it wants to take the real step of adding some teams in Europe and seeing how they're accepted.

by mm (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 10:02pm

ouch...sorry about never closing my italics...

by DolFan 316 (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 10:44pm

#4: I'm not sure the Fins are a legit NFL team either so this game might make the UK fans pine for the days of a league full of teams composed ofhas-beens and never-weres. In fact, I think any of the NFLE teams could beat this year's Fins.

As for the UK media, I hear it makes the American media look brilliant, and that's damn hard to pull off. I know their tabloid writers have less shame.

by Athelas (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 10:47pm

OT-excuse me, but I'm wondering if anyone reading this thread knows if Bermuda has any NFL coverage?
We're going on 'our' team's bye week, but would love to watch some while we're there.

by Rodafowa (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 11:00pm

I worry about Channel Five's coverage. How can they possibly keep affording the rights to games if they're not selling ad space?

I'm sure its days are numbered, but it'll be a really shame to see it go. Not only is Five's gridiron coverage the best thing on the channel by a million billion miles but also, as others have previously said, Mike Carlson might be the best analyst on British TV for any sport.

Ho hum. Enjoy it while it lasts, I suppose.

by DolFan 316 (not verified) :: Fri, 10/26/2007 - 11:53pm

#23: Well well...never thought I'd be bumping into *you* again :-)

You need to do another Madden franchise BTW. If you weren't a Jets fan the Fins would be perfect for you.

by ChrisJ (not verified) :: Sat, 10/27/2007 - 5:33am

#23 I too love channel 5's coverage. In regards to them not selling ad-space, it is more a case of them not having ad-space to sell. Every channel is only allowed a certain amount of ads per day, and by the time the NFL is on they have already used their allowed amount during more lucrative times. I don't know why I know this but I do :) I think Channel 5 do a good job and its a shame they don't have coverage of the playoffs/Superbowl.

by Levente from Hungary (not verified) :: Sat, 10/27/2007 - 7:50am

"whilst a nice number, is probably not what the NFL has in mind for a country of 60 million."
A friend of mine signed up from Hungary. I guess there are some from Holland, Germany, etc. as well so the rate is even lower.

by Levente from Hungary (not verified) :: Sat, 10/27/2007 - 9:02am


Considering that NFL Gamepass is available around the world except US, Canada, Mexico, Bahamas, Bermuda, Antigua, and U.S. Territories, I guess US TV coverage is available there.

by Alan Milnes (not verified) :: Sat, 10/27/2007 - 11:37am

Re 21

The best NFLE team could play this years Dolphins every week for a 100 years and still never beat them. The worst player on the Dolphins roster would be the pest player on the NFLE roster. We get enormous coverage of the NFL here (Sky, C5, Gamepass) and therefore we know that the NFLE is not the real thing.

by Athelas (not verified) :: Sat, 10/27/2007 - 11:56am

Thanks, I didn't know such a thing existed!

by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Sat, 10/27/2007 - 12:10pm

21: Don't lump the wole of the UK media in with the tabloids. There are some very good newspapers, quality busines press and most of our TV news is pretty good. You would not have seen the debacle over Anna Nicole Smith over here.

You are right about the tabloids though, they've been involved in a competitively paced race to the bottom for twenty years now.

by John (not verified) :: Sat, 10/27/2007 - 6:09pm

If the NFL is going to get in the habit of scheduling overseas games, it strikes me as best that it add a 17th game on a neutral field.

That way, cities in the US without an NFL team can get to see a game, and when it's time to go to China, Europe, wherever, neither team is losing a home game.

by Theo, Holland (not verified) :: Sat, 10/27/2007 - 7:43pm

UK Media Wrap: Does Anybody Really Care? Wrap: Does Anybody Really Care?

I found it strange that the NFL would go to the country that is shifting from soccer to rugby. There is no market in England for the NFL.
Europe, on the other hand... The scandinavians, the Dutch, and Germans are growing to like (NFL) football.

by mm (not verified) :: Sat, 10/27/2007 - 9:28pm

The NFL has decided to play up to 2 games per year abroad. Some of those will probably be in the Western Hemisphere, but I've read that Kansas City has already agreed to be the 'home' team for a game next year in Germany (hasn't been officially announced, though I've read it at least twice in the last few months).

The Netherlands may get its chance.

by coyotl666 (not verified) :: Sun, 10/28/2007 - 3:00am

as a brit ex-pat likes both sports called football, the different ways internationalism is approached is interesting to me. only "tackle football" really needs be introduced elsewhere, as (as)soc(iation), c(***), er (football) is already entrenched. it's far easier to watch the nfl in england than the priemiership in america as it is. and while you'd never see the arse give up a game and the burger concessions at the emirates, i'd reckon that it wouldn't take much for fayed to give up a craven cottage fixture to one of the yank owned teams, manure or liverpool, sanctity of fixtures or not. but it's just not needed. world domination ain't the model.

and if you want to see laughable sportspage coverage of another country's sport, just try the major american papers' coverage of football.

cheers, marl

by OMAR (not verified) :: Sun, 10/28/2007 - 12:22pm

Channing Crowder's jokes have taken on a life of their own.
3.5 GPA in high school
National Honor Society
2 years at the University of Florida
Wonderlic score of 30
He requested a translator? Too funny. I can't find the country of London on a map either. But then again, I'm not a stupid football player.

by RickD (not verified) :: Sun, 10/28/2007 - 12:38pm

re:: 35
A translator could be useful, esp. in some sections of East London. Crowder should feel lucky they're not playing in Scotland!

by Nick Evans (not verified) :: Sun, 10/28/2007 - 7:01pm

The level of coverage wasn't that great but, to be fair, if you're checking on Friday for coverage of a game that doesn't happen until Sunday, then you wouldn't really expect it to be. There was a full programme of premiership football on the intervening Saturday to cover.

There'll be more coverage today - the day of the match - and tomorrow, with the match report, I reckon.

As for British tabloids, they're not great, but I'd be a bit sceptical about taking the word of rival media organisations for that. They're not the NY Times, but they're hardly the Enquirer either.

by Madison (not verified) :: Sun, 10/28/2007 - 9:20pm

I've just got back from the Wembley game. I'm not a fan of the Giants or the Dolphins, but, like so many, went for the experience. The atmosphere really was something else - we were all delighted to be able to watch the real thing in person. What the US often don't realise is that while following the NFL is a niche interest over here, those of us that do follow it do it with an unusual interest; it's almost like a secret club. If you know the right places to go, the pubs that show the NFL on a Sunday are often very busy indeed.

As far as the requests for tickets go, it's important to remember that not everyone was aware of the need to pre-register an interest. So although there may have been a lot of people registering from abroad, there will also have been many interested in going to the game who didn't get the chance to register.

What's more, the NFL got pretty much every thing about the day right, building up a great atmosphere, anticipation, and entertainment. The interest would still be there if they were to come back.Fans here are interested enough to come to a game a year.

Of course, the best way to improve support would be to get a terrestrial TV channel to show it, like Channel 4 did in the 1980s. But there's more money in Sky showing it, I guess.

by Charlie (not verified) :: Sun, 10/28/2007 - 9:26pm

Not a great game, but a great occasion. Thrilling to see real regular season NFL football in the UK, even if the conditions made it a bit 1950's. One point though: we booed the kneel-downs at the end not because we don't understand football, but because we didn't want it to end. Golly that was a bad onside kick. Come back soon! Even you, Channing Crowder.

by Paulo Sanchotene, Brazil (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 6:48am

Well, NFL Europe, at least, left "a son": The Deutsche Football Liga (GFL). The league has 12 teams in its first division and 16 in its second. The German Bowl has always soldout crowds.

by john, glasgow (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 10:59am

As an American living here I've found it hard to find anyone interested in the NFL. A few people I know watched it in the 80s (which seems to be the heyday for American football in the UK, hence the large contingent of Dolphins fans) but no one wants to stay up late, the commercial breaks are aggravating, and the game just feels too long in general. Plus, with the most exciting sports league in the world just down the road (the Barclays Premiership), the NFL is just a fringe, obscurant interest.

It's irritating when people make fun of American football for the players wearing helmets and pads, or for the play stopping all of the time. I've told a zillion people that if they would sit down and watch a game with me and actually learn how it works, they'd be hooked. But no one ever does, and I've accepted it, and just learned to enjoy the games as my time alone.

I luckily get my Steelers games via a Slingbox, and try to stay up to watch Channel five's coverage almost no matter what the game is - Mike Carlson is not just the best sports analyst in Britain, I think he's the best TV sports analyst I've ever seen. His knowledge of the game is incredible, he's got a great sense of humour and is willing to be a bit more irreverent than any US commentator - and his presentations are always a joy to watch. Check out his 'Friday Morning Tight End' column on NFLuk.com if you don't believe me.

I thought the Wembley game was a cute idea, but ultimately the sport is doomed here. This isn't America and I don't think you can just import a rich tradition and history to an entire country. My own interest in English football only grew over a year spent living with a diehard Liverpool fan, and fully immersing myself in the media and literature of soccer. And still, I have a lot to learn.

by Mike Carlson (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 2:20pm

Thanks for the kind words: if I could find my head on Mondays it might go to it.

Re 28: of course the Dolphins would beat an NFL Europe team, but it's very dangerous to say
the worst player on the Dolphins would be the best player in NFLE when their starting QB Cleo Lemon was a BACKUP in Europe.

Donnie Spragan, Keith Traylor,
Aaron Halterman, and Steve Fifita also played in NFLE, and none of them are the worst player Miami has. Lawrence Tynes and inactive Dave Tollefson from the Giants were also there.

And Steve Spagnuolo coached there twice, under Jack Bicknell and Dick Curl, before landing an NFL job.