In the UK, football is overwhelmingly the most popular sport around. It is entrenched in British culture and the Premier League in particular is a huge institution.
There are plenty of other sports that are also extremely popular in the UK: boxing, cricket, Formula 1 and tennis to name a few.
However, in recent years there has been an upward trend for American sports in terms of their popularity on UK shores.
American football, more specifically the NFL, has become much more prominent in UK culture.
This connection can perhaps be dated back to 1985, when Channel 4 picked up broadcast rights to show highlights from that season, including the Super Bowl.
This caused a spike in the amount of people in the UK playing American football competitively, with an official league soon established and over 100 teams involved.
It wasn’t until 2007 that the NFL truly broke into the UK mainstream, though, when a regular season game was hosted at Wembley Stadium.
This was the establishment of the NFL’s international series and now several games are played in London every season.
Basketball is also very popular in the UK, with the NBA drawing large viewing audiences on television.
Indeed, in 1993 the league held a few pre-season games in the UK and since then has continued to hold games there.
Another American sport that has begun to set roots in the UK is baseball, with plenty of UK sports fans following the MLB.
All that being said, the NFL has found the most success in the UK.
In a survey of 2,032 sports fans in the UK, conducted by the Good Form Group, a whopping 94% said they were aware of NFL games being played in the UK, compared to 54% for the NBA and 49% for the MLB.
Respondents were also asked about the likelihood of them attending live games for these leagues over the next few years, with 43% saying they’re likely to attend an NFL game, 23% expressing interest in watching MLB and 21% for the NBA.
What’s clear from these figures is that these American sports holding games in the UK has had a major impact on that audience, with 63% of respondents agreeing that holding games in the country has attracted a different audience for these sports.
Watching a game on television at home and attending one in person are two very different experiences, as there are few things that can replicate the atmosphere of a packed stadium watching live sport.
In fact, both the NFL and NBA are reportedly considering locating franchises in the UK on a permanent basis, which would break new ground for both sports.
This would also go a long way to increasing brand awareness among the UK audience, as there would likely be regular games held there, instead of just a few over the course of a couple of weekends.
Another aspect to consider is the popularity of these sports among bettors in the UK.
Every major sportsbook such as DraftKings, offers extensive odds on leagues like the NFL and MLB, providing further intrigue for international audiences.
It’s fairly clear to see why holding games in the UK would increase the popularity of these American sports.
For one, it means these games are held at a time that is more comfortable for UK fans to watch them, whether in person or on television.
Typically, American sports games will take place in the early hours for UK citizens, which limits their potential audience as only dedicated fans will stay up to watch them.
With games being held in the UK, they’ll take place during the day over weekends, meaning more casual sports fans are far more likely to tune in or attend.
Games held in the UK also means players and coaches will be in the country and exposed to the media there, further spreading the word about these sports.
Many NFL, NBA and MLB players are global superstars, and the thought of them playing on UK soil will cause a lot of excitement among sports fans there.
The UK also now has more television channels than ever, with dozens dedicated to sport. This means much more exposure for American sports, and that more of their games are broadcast there.
Now, these sports are aware of the passionate audiences they can tap into in the UK and so seem set to further cement their place there.
As mentioned, some leagues might relocate teams to the UK and it seems clear they will aim to be more active in the region.
These are sporting powerhouses that have established themselves in the US, and so should not find too much trouble in continuing to grow their already large audiences in the UK.
If they solidify their UK plans with permanent franchises there, the sky could be the limit.
Featured image credit: Marco Verch via Flickr under CC BY 2.0 license
4 February 2022
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