Most people think of football as an American sport. But the NFL is trying to change that.
In 2017, the sport boasted 25 million unique UK TV viewers, up 40% increase from 2016, and the 2018 numbers are adding up to be even bigger. The NFL wants to continue increasing their fanbase in the UK – specifically, to get more UK fans watching the playoffs, not just the Super Bowl. Their strategy? Trying to encourage individual franchises to grow their fanbases in the UK.
In the UK, we have fans of the NFL, in the US we have fans of teams. You tend to be born into that and it is part of your life and your culture but we do know that when someone chooses a team, they remain connected to the sport for longer throughout the season, rather than a general NFL fan.
The Philadelphia Eagles have done an especially good job marketing the team to the UK, says Swanson. Playing a game in London in October, they were the first Super Bowl champions to do so, and have a special tie to the country due to UK-born player Jay Ajayi:
They did really fun, locally relevant things that we haven’t seen before. They didn’t come to market the way they do in Philadelphia, they were fun, tailored and respectful. We worked with them on that. I was great to have a team put that kind of time and resource against this market.
The team also created a digital tabloid called The Regal Eagleto reach out to Brits and help them learn more about the team’s background and relevant news.
Will the NFL continue to grow in popularity in the UK? There are many challenges that come when marketing a quintessentially American sport to a UK audience, but by bringing teams to play on UK soil, the NFL is forming connections between the players and UK fans. Causing UK fans to feel closer to the action may be just what the NFL needs to turn casual Super Bowl viewers to dedicated NFL fans.