My novelist uncle in Rhode Island was messaging me again yesterday. It wasn’t about writing or books, which I actually find useful. This time is was about the NFL’s New York Jets playing at London’s Wembley Stadium this weekend.
Are they? I had no idea. Regardless, he should be writing his next book (I’m still cleaning up mine)…. not messing around on Facebook. Eh, but nevermind, it got me thinking:
I remember Sky Sports, in the late 1990s/ early 2000s, showing the NFL from the U.S. on Sunday evenings to what must have been about “a few dozen” U.K. viewers – half of them probably Americans. (Five hours ahead here, watching the entire “4 o’clock game” E.T. was too late for anyone with a job.) The two anchors – one American, one British – hosted while sitting on what looked like reclaimed furniture. The set would not have been out of place on a U.S. TV cable local access show.
The “play by play” was the same you saw on Fox, CBS or NBC in the U.S. However, during U.S. advertising breaks, as well as pre-game and at halftime, the U.K.’s Sky anchors had the limelight. I recall them often reading emails, and I gathered if you fired off one to them you stood a REALLY good chance of it being read on the air. (I never did.) The emailers were almost invariably British. Most American expats – I suspected – didn’t want to openly admit they were actually watching.
The messages often ran along the lines of Simon in Exeter happening to be awake late and watching for the first time and he just had to write in to say he thought it was all super amazing. Or Emma in Norwich would be emphatically pointing out she was a huge Denver Broncos supporter. And Steve in Glasgow would be asking about when Jerry Jones would replace this latest Cowboys coach, and he had lived in Dallas for a while and considered himself an honorary Scottish Texan.
There was something “comfortable” about the broadcast – like hanging out with friends. It had an escapist feel. It was chummy, low key, Americana amidst a team sports U.K. domestic landscape thoroughly dominated – and everyone involved, viewers included, knew it – by soccer and, to a lesser extent, rugby and cricket.
Today, the NFL is much better known here. Sky’s NFL coverage now has a REAL studio and apparently lots more money to spend on the broadcasts. The “chummy” coverage of two decades ago is history.
Yet American football is still not mainstream here by any means. It remains “American.” Indeed its rules continue to totally baffle most people:
And watching the NFL here still leads you as an American to sorta question the entire premise. The violence of the sport is masked by the spectacle that envelops it. It reminds you a lot of Disney World or Las Vegas transferred to a sports field.
The British don’t do sport like this.
The NFL is often gaudy and proudly larger than life. It’s filled with the sort of “Hollywood-like” over the top entertainment often associated abroad with “Americanism” – and what it has to do with the actual competition on the field between the teams is anyone’s guess. Take the cheerleaders:
Now that’s America to much of the rest of the world.
All kidding aside, could an NFL team survive here in London? Probably. But based on the reality that “expansion” NFL teams tend to be consistently bad for some years, would Londoners continue to turn out to watch their team lose by mostly lopsided scores at every home “fixture?”
Seeing Aaron Rodgers throwing 6 TD passes – in the first quarter – would hardly get them all juiced up to back their new club. And who could blame them given even Americans tend to stay away from turning up to see their own losing NFL franchise. The Wembley games – like a Vegas extravaganza – between existing U.S.-based teams is realistically probably a better way to go than a London franchise itself.
Then again, what the heck do I know? 😉
Have a good Tuesday, wherever you are in the world. 🙂