This year I decided to spend Halloween at Wembley Stadium in London, the city where I am now located and the city which serves as the center of the iGaming universe. An afternoon at Wembley was of particular interest to me because the NFL International Series game between the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers was taking place at the stadium…and because Bodog Europe hired 25 Bodog Girls to work the crowd and I wanted to see them in action!
For the past four years, two mediocre NFL teams have played an actual season game right here on English turf. Sure, everyone here speaks English and has at least a little knowledge of “American Football”, but why bother shipping the teams, coaches, mascots, refs, and cheerleaders across the pond?
Some feel the main driver is indirect revenues in the form of keeping NFL interest up in the UK (and Europe) since the demise of NFL Europe so the TV rights have some value. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell claims to be looking into increasing the number of games played in the UK and some claim that in the future we’ll see an English franchise playing in the NFL. So are these claims true or just marketing ploys?
No one really knows for sure, but one thing IS for sure…Wembley stadium holds 85,000 people and the place was sold out on Sunday. Gillette stadium, home of the New England Patriots, only holds 65,000. Clearly there is a lot of interest here in the UK.
As an American who is pretty familiar with NFL games back in the US, live at the stadium and televised, I was pleasantly surprised with the show that was put on at Wembley this past weekend. Amongst a crowd of what seemed to be about half English and half American, I saw Broncos fans wearing huge cowboy hats with orange face paint, I saw obnoxious Americans wearing Pats jerseys and Red Sox baseball hats, I saw the cheerleaders, I heard the loud rock music between plays, I saw the mascots, the drums, “the wave”, the exploding fire, the extravagant national anthems, the 49er flags and the sale of hot pretzels and beer.
However, some things just weren’t the same, the most obvious being the “tailgate” which was nothing like the season game tailgates they have in the US. The issue here is that many Londoners don’t have cars, and if they do, the cars certainly are not SUVs, so grills, meat, snacks and 30 packs of Busch Light in coolers don’t have anywhere to live during a five hour pregame in a parking lot. The tailgate arranged at Wembley reminded me very much of the tailgate at the Super Bowl– very controlled, kid-friendly, and sober- the polar opposite of what you would find at a regular season NFL game in America.
Despite the failed attempt at a tailgate, my English iGaming friends who had tickets to the game were very impressed with the show and had the time of their life on Sunday. “It was an amazing spectacle, like a mini Super Bowl!” explained Pentasia’s Rob Dowling. Karim Wilkins of RaketheRake.com even went so far as to say, “The atmosphere was electric, and if we ever had a franchise in London, I would be a regular visitor to the games”.
In fact, it seemed to me that the English were more impressed by the “razzmatazz” that comes along with NFL games than the actual game itself. James Arnold of Sportingbet decided to spend his Sunday at the game and said, “You have to hand it to the Americans…when it comes to putting on a show they bring the A game! Maybe not the best game, and as I understand it certainly not the best two teams this year, but I found the whole experience very entertaining and will definitely be going next year”.
As you can see, regardless of the NFL’s motivation for hosting games at Wembley, the English will keep on buying those tickets and so will the Americans residing in London. Same as this year and the three years previous, the really die-hard American fans will continue flying to London to cheer on their favorite NFL team and to make a vacation out of the whole experience. Regardless of what spectator category you fall into, there is one very obvious reason to me why you should come to the NFL games at Wembley…to gawk at the NFL cheerleaders, of course!