Is NFL's international experiment paying off abroad?

LONDON – Game 16 of the National Football League’s bold crusade beyond its own borders arrived in London on Sunday, making this as good a time as any to take a quick look at what we have learned from the ongoing experiment to give America’s game an English twist.

Needless to say, football hasn’t conquered Britain enough to divert attention from its own passion: football (of the round ball variety). Even after all these visits, some of those who packed into Twickenham Stadium on Sunday afternoon weren’t quite sure what was going on, perplexed by such oddities as the game stopping every couple of minutes and the pitch — sorry, field — being invaded by cheerleaders with regularity.

Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke confidently asserted earlier this year that his franchise was poised to become not just the team of London, but of the global NFL audience. It must have been somewhat disappointing then, to see the number of Rams supporters at the home of rugby outnumbered by those in New York Giants gear. And the Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins and pretty much every other NFL team you can think of. Perhaps it is Kroenke’s loss, but it might be a victory for other owners.

Even so, perhaps there is a little NFL fatigue going on in the United Kingdom, which got sick of that other great omnipotent bureaucratic entity, the European Union, and kicked it out in a contentious vote over the summer.

Media coverage among the national press was scant ahead of this, the second of three games in a four-week span across the capital. The Sun, Britain’s most-read publication, carried just 100 words ahead of the game, focusing on Rams tight end Lance Kendricks discussing the thrill of swapping St. Louis for Tinseltown, and — fortunately for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Giants — and ignoring the domestic abuse saga of kicker Josh Brown.

But while the match-up of a pair of 3-3 teams might not have been buzzing on the lips of every Londoner, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that enough of them turned up to fill up one of Europe’s largest and most impressive stadiums.

BBC2, a free-to-air national broadcaster, piped the game live, free of charge and without commercials (imagine that) into millions of British living rooms.

To be fair to those in the stadium, the uninitiated were far from the majority. Plenty of those in attendance knew when to cheer, when to stand, when to duck out for a beer to beat the lines.

Yes, there is an NFL culture here, not a rabid, overwhelming one big enough to be considered a social movement. But it is established, it is committed, and unless Goodell and his band of global thinkers suddenly change tack, it is here to stay.

Copyright 2016 USA TODAY Sports


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