NFL aims to become “engrained” in British sporting landscape

The NFL is looking to triple its UK fanbase in the next five years by partnering with more “quintessentially British” brands, expanding its merchandise range and forming a London-based team.

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The franchise already has several UK-exclusive sponsors, including Virgin Atlantic, Chrysler and Best Buy, although Alistair Kirkwood, the NFL’s UK managing director, says the sport would also hope to attract more partnerships with “quintessentially British brands” to boost engagement.

Kirkwood says the league aims to become “engrained” in the British sporting landscape, as a complement to football and rugby, by 2016.

He adds: “In the first four to five years we were making sure we could pull the [Wembley] games off operationally, that teams and coaches didn’t feel at a disadvantage and that fans could get used to the experience and fit that into their sporting calendar. Over the next five years we are looking to become more engrained in the British sporting landscape.”

Marc Armstrong, NFL UK’s commercial director, says the “key thing” the league looks for in a partner is activation of their sponsorship.

“Partners that use the NFL as a season-long engagement tool [through ticket promotions and digital activity, for example] are far more valuable than a big cheque alone,” he says.

Sunday’s (23 October) NFL game between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the fifth annual event at Wembley stadium, was the second most watched event on Sky Sports that day, only behind English Premier League football, according to overnight BARB figures.

The league’s season-long television ratings on Channel 4 and Sky Sports are up 20% year on year, which led to its owners recently committing to continue playing regular season games in the UK until 2016, meaning there could be two or more events a year.

The NFL is also considering forming a London-based team in the next three to four years that would play weekly in the US league, which would help increase UK interest and encourage further participation in the game. Currently there are only about five players from the UK registered with the NFL.

The brand will be further extended in the UK in 2012 through merchandise partnerships with Nike and New Era.

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