Guest Blog – Shawn Moore

Hello Ladies and Gentlemen.

I introduce to you the third in the line of our monthly guest blogs. This time it is the turn of Shawn Moore, A 37 year old stokie by birth now residing in Epsom and working in London.

Shawn is a Stoke City supporter, a Miami Dolphins fan and as well as the rest of us following all the sports under the sun, he is also a very keen long distance runner.

Take it away Shawn….

NFL @ Wembley and British American Football

Three months and counting….

In America, training camps are about to begin in readiness for the 2009 NFL season, which begins when the six-time Super Bowl Champions Pittsburgh Steelers host the Tennessee Titans on Thursday 10th September. If you’re an American Football fan in this country however, then Sunday October 25th is one of the most important dates in the calendar as that’s when the NFL brings its show into town as part of its International Series.

This is the third match in the NFL’s international programme following on from last year’s thrilling match when the New Orleans Saints beat the San Diego Chargers 37-32, and the rain-fest in 2007 when the New York Giants overcame the Miami Dolphins 13-10 on their way to winning the Super Bowl later that season. The 2007 fixture was also the first regular-season NFL game to be played outside of North America.

I’ve been fortunate to attend both of these games and also have tickets for the October match later this year. The first two were played out to capacity crowds and created huge media interest for the sport in this country. The atmosphere inside the stadium was electric on both occasions and was comparable to the atmosphere of an NFL play-off game, never mind a regular season contest.

This year’s event is between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (who are designated as the home team) and one of the most dominating teams of the past decade, the New England Patriots – who’ve had four Super Bowl appearances under their belt since the 2001 season.

Tampa Bay themselves should be no strangers to supporters of Manchester United, as both clubs are owned by the Glazier family. The demands for this match have been equally high as the first two contests and tickets are almost sold out as 70,000 tickets were sold on the first day – including 20,000 that were sold within the first seven minutes of sales. 

The demand for tickets is no surprise to any long-term fan of American Football in this country as there has been a dedicated fan-base since Channel 4 first aired NFL games during the 1983 season, and American Football has been played at various levels all over the UK since the mid-80s.

I myself was briefly involved with the old-Stoke Spitfires in the early 90s before they became the Staffordshire Surge. Currently, there is a national league called the British American Football League that is made up of three senior divisions, youth and junior leagues and a very thriving university set-up. The senior season culminates in a championship weekend where the Britbowl is the crowning glory of the premier division teams.

There have been two professional American Football teams in the UK in the past: the London Monarchs and the Scottish Claymores. The Monarchs were one of the original teams of the World League of American Football and won the inaugural World Bowl at Wembley Stadium in 1991. The Claymores joined the league in 1995 when it was reformatted as NFL Europe and they themselves won the championship in 1996. However, in 2007 the NFL announced that the league would be disbanded, as they wanted to focus on the international regular-season games outside of the United States.

Indeed, the notion of playing NFL matches in London isn’t new as between 1986-1993 there were eight American Bowl games played at Wembley that were pre-season exhibition contests. The interest in these matches fizzled out because the core fans had become more sophisticated in their knowledge of American Football, and wanted real regular season action and not pre-season contests where you only saw the superstars for a quarter of play before the rookies and back-ups were brought-out.

Since those early days, the sport has been shown on all terrestrial channels and since the mid-90s Sky TV have shown a huge commitment to the NFL and it’s a little known fact that over the course of a season they actually show more NFL matches than Premier League games. 

The International Series of games haven’t gone without controversy both here in the UK and in the States. A lot of the debate is down to the huge logistical problems in playing a game overseas and also the fact that these are actual regular-season matches and not friendlies and so one team has to give up a home game and the other team an away game. When you only have eight home games a season, that’s a very big sacrifice to pay and one which is tough for the fans losing out on a home fixture – even though it’s for the greater benefit of trying to make the NFL a global-player in the international sports market.

Another argument is the Wembley pitch itself – it’s simply not designed to cope with three hours of high-intensity gridiron action and cuts up very easy. A case in point was the 2007 match where due to incessant rain both before and during the contest the pitch was left in tatters by half time and became a mud bath. Because of this, some of the NFL teams who’ve already played at Wembley have voiced their concerns along with various football (soccer) governing bodies, officials and journalists.

These criticisms aside the NFL, NFLUK and associated partners in the UK are un-deterred and are forging ahead with plans for at least the next two years. However, talk of one day bringing the Super Bowl to London is too far-fetched in my opinion, as is the possibility of a potential NFL franchise in London as mentioned by the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell. One idea from Goodell that could come to fruition though is the option of two games for London as part of a season restructuring plan that the NFL wants to undergo.

Either way, while those plans are being debated around the world I’ll just look forward to taking my seat on October 25th.

Cheers Shawn

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