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What the Premier League can learn from the NFL about holding games abroad

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“Take a look at how many individuals we made blissful tonight, and I’m blissful because I’m going home tomorrow”.

Those were the words of Charlie Davis when asked how he felt after playing in the primary NFL game to be held outside of North America in 1976.

That pre-season contest between the St Louis Cardinals and the San Diego Chargers took place in Tokyo but since then, there have been 40 regular-season international games.

Thirty of those have taken place in London, a city that has grow to be the NFL’s home away from home since 2007 and hosts three games every 12 months. The NBA has also held 33 regular-season games world wide dating back to 1990.

Could an analogous idea ever work with a Premier League match?

The stakeholders for English football’s top flight discussed a “roadmap for meaningful matches abroad” in June 2021 but this was centred on pre-season fixtures in key foreign markets akin to the US, China, India, Brazil and Indonesia somewhat than the so-called “thirty ninth game” floated by former Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore in 2008.

The lure of playing in front of fans based outside the UK is obvious from the countries by which Premier League teams are playing pre-season fixtures as they tour the world for the primary time because the summer of 2019. Australia, the US, Singapore, Thailand and South Korea are among the more far-flung destinations for top-flight clubs, in addition to playing a number of warm-up matches against teams in Europe.

And you may see why the prospect of a Premier League match abroad could be appealing from a industrial perspective. When the NFL held its first competitive match in London between the Recent York Giants and the Miami Dolphins at Wembley in 2007, there have been a couple of million ticket requests. The fixture sold out inside 90 minutes.


Jaguars fans at Wembley in 2018 (Photo: Steve Flynn/USA TODAY)

Tottenham struck a 10-year deal to host NFL games on the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in 2015. The majority of income the NFL makes from hosting games abroad is from broadcasting rights but for the host stadium, there are healthy incentives. Tottenham are paid a hosting fee by the NFL and keep the proceeds from foods and drinks sales and merchandising benefit from the club’s shop.

In Tottenham’s first NFL game in 2019, a 24-21 win for Oakland (now Las Vegas) Raiders over Chicago Bears, they set a latest European record for the sales of beer at a sporting venue on what was called a “multi-million-pound payday“.

The Jacksonville Jaguars will face the Denver Broncos on October 30 at Wembley.

The Jaguars, who’ve the identical owner as Fulham in Shahid Khan, have a deal in place with Wembley to play there every year for the subsequent three years, having played in England’s capital eight times since 2013, essentially the most of any NFL side. When the Jaguars play at Wembley, it generates twice the quantity of revenue as a house game held at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Miami.

“Wembley’s a cool place, I might’ve loved to play over here,” says Tony Boselli, one in every of the Jaguars’ most iconic players and the primary they drafted when the franchise launched in 1995.

The longest distance two Premier League teams will travel throughout the 2022-23 season is slightly over 350 miles, when Newcastle face Bournemouth. Nevertheless it’s greater than 4,000 miles between Jacksonville and London, in addition to 4 or five hours’ time difference, depending on daylight savings.

If the Premier League was to ever hold a fixture in one other continent, it could likely be broadcast at a time that’s unfamiliar to British spectators, but Boselli thinks the difference will not be necessarily a foul thing.

Jaguars

Boselli on the Jaguars’ player tour in London this month (Photo: Shooting Shark)

“Once I consult with my friends who’re big (American) football fans, they adore it, since the first game is at 9.30am, after which they go from a game at 9.30am to a game at 1pm to a game at 4pm after which there’s an evening game,” he says. “At first, it was slightly little bit of a novelty, but now, I feel individuals are like, ‘Great, teams are going to play in London, so we get more NFL to look at’.

“I really like football and I really like that NFL goes international in attempting to grow the sport and educate the fans about it. Should you take a look at soccer, soccer is the world’s game. Everyone plays soccer all over the place, they don’t play American football all over the place.”

But how do players feel about all that extra travel? “Across the halfway point of the season, that’s when the body starts getting slightly bit more banged up. So it’ll be a distinct dynamic with the long travel, but in case you leave there with a win, it makes it price it,” explains Evan Engram, the Jaguars’ newly acquired tight end. “I’ve all the time desired to (play at Wembley). It feels special to have the ability to showcase our talents in London.”

Longer travel time has often been cited as a reason teams sometimes struggle. Nevertheless, within the eyes of Boselli, jet lag can’t be used as an excuse.

You’re flying a chartered plane and also you’re staying at nice hotels,” says the 50-year-old, who retired in 2003. “Get your sleep, get your rest and go play football. Good teams win, regardless of where you play. Good players perform, regardless of where you play.”

Travelling to different continents will not be only a strain on the players, though.

When the Los Angeles Rams faced the Cincinnati Bengals in 2019 at Wembley, the Rams shipped over 25,000lb (greater than 11,000kg) of cargo. The Recent York Jets played against the Miami Dolphins in London in October 2015 but sent over their supplies in August to make sure all of it arrived on time.

Amongst that shipment were 263 boxes of food, 315 power devices, 472 pieces of athletic equipment, 1,268 promotional items and 350 rolls of American toilet paper.

The last item on that list could seem extreme (US toilet roll is softer, apparently) but to achieve success, NFL franchises must do all the things they will to copy the precise conditions the players are used to when playing in America.

That features the food the players eat. “The bacon over here will not be cooked quite as crisp because it is in America,” adds Boselli. “I don’t think they know learn how to make crispy bacon in London!”

For Engram, his go-to pre-game meal is steak and eggs. But not only any steak will suffice: filet mignon is his cut of selection. He thinks a lot of the rituals players perform at home may be transferred across the pond, though.

“Before each game, home or away, I attempt to be the primary one on the sphere,” explains Engram. “I sit on the goalposts and pray, loosen up and meditate to attempt to get my mind ready before going into battle.”

Jaguars, Engram

Engram speaks to media in London (Photo: Shooting Shark)

Boselli had an analogous ritual. “Everyone has their very own little quirks. I might stand up early and eat breakfast alone, and I’d attempt to get to the stadium as early as possible.

“As knowledgeable athlete, you make a variety of money. Use the off-season to go and revel in London. While you come here to play, it’s a business trip, there’s no time for sightseeing or nightclubs.”

Being exposed to different weather conditions can be a part of being knowledgeable athlete. Engram traded within the cold climes of Recent York for sunnier shores in Jacksonville. “Once I’m playing within the cold, I don’t placed on sleeves since it could alter something or change how I catch the ball,” he says. “You bought to fight through it regardless of what.”

At NFL matches held in London, it’s common to see fans wearing a wide range of different teams’ jerseys within the stands. The atmosphere is more party-like than fierce. There can be a variety of cheering for each teams,” says Boselli, “but we understand that. It’s a part of the fun of all of it.”

This could likely be replicated if the Premier League held a fixture abroad: you’ll have a small group who’re hardcore supporters and a bigger majority attracted by the prospect of entertainment.

So how do you replicate the extent of intensity you should thrive considering what’s at stake? If a team takes its foot off the gas during a global match with points on offer, it could prove costly.

“Any stadium that has greater than 10,000 people in, it’s still going to be loud. You’re still going to feel something,” says Engram. 

(Top photo: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY)

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