How the NFL is working to build a home away from home in the UK

The NFL’s attempts to expand their UK fan base looks to be paying off, touting record ticket sales, TV audiences, and sponsorship revenue, but will their fans in the UK ever be as passionate as those in the US?

Sarah Swanson, NFL UK’s Head of Marketing, believes that fan engagement is the key to solving their problems. She wants fans to develop deeper connections with the sport, or even better, a team.

She said: “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.

“So for us, team growth is so important and to have a club like the Eagles, who are hugely invested in growing their fan base here, it is a great opportunity.”

The Eagles, who were the first Super Bowl Champions to play in the UK,  were also the first team with a UK-born player. Jay Ajayi has been able to create a larger, more connected fan base because he has an intrinsic link with with the UK audience.

Swanson said: “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. It was great to have a team put that kind of time and resource against this market.”

Jennifer Kavanagh, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Media for the Philadelphia Eagles, also believes that the opportunity for growth in the UK can be achieved by connecting with the fans.

She added: “We are a brand that likes to tell stories, so we have a lot of original content that we create specifically to help people get to know the team, as well as the individual players, on and off the field.”

By doing things that were personal to the team, but still accounted for the UK’s national identity, they were able to pique international interest. The NFL’s Regent Street Takeover, closed down the street for a day of entertainment, cheerleaders, pop-ups, and more, with over 600,000 attendees.

Of course the hope is that UK-based fans of the NFL will be as passionate and loyal as those in the US, but there is still a long way to go until that happens, despite the major progress already made. However, the NFL – and the Eagles in particular – seem to have a clear plan moving forward.

Engaging with their audience, being aware of local trends and cultures, and creating deep connections with the fans are sure to help the NFL push the existing fan base closer to that of the US and attracting new fans as they go along.

Even now, you see people walking around London wearing merchandise for NFL teams such as the Green Bay Packers, the New England Patriots, and of course, the Philadelphia Eagles. So, it’s not that the fans aren’t there, is it simply a case of the NFL finding them and making them feel at home with American football?

About author

Parker Sikes
Parker Sikes 34 posts

Parker Sikes is an American student studying advertising in London. Follow her on Twitter at @sikespar.

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