A Jacksonville Jaguars flag shows support in Wembley Stadium.

American football calling: the NFL’s London Games are back

The NFL is back in the capital with shots of Americana for British fans of American football and hopes to grow the sport.

The world’s richest sporting league is in the UK for three American football games and an event at Battersea Power Station.

The sold-out London Games are well underway with the Jacksonville Jaguars mauling the Atlanta Falcons 23-7 at Wembley Stadium.

The Jags will look to replicate that performance against a rampant Buffalo Bills, and the ever-hopeful Baltimore Ravens will face the Tennessee Titans at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Henry Hodgson, 46, the General Manager of NFL UK said: “Our games are incredible, luckily!

“We want to make sure that people who can’t get their hands on tickets have another opportunity to engage and be a part of what the NFL brings to London.”

The league might have returned, but so have whispers of a London-based franchise.

Football facts and fictions

Hodgson rejected imminent talk of a franchise in the capital.

However, he said: “We’ve taken steps to sort of see what it would take to bring a franchise to the country and the Jaguars have been a fantastic partner.

“They’re showing how a team could build a fan base in this market by playing a game annually.”

Through the efforts of Shahid Khan, the outspoken owner of Fulham FC and Jacksonville Jaguars, the Florida team have been connected with potential developments for years.

Khan has attempted to purchase Wembley Stadium, the Jags are the first team to play back-to-back games in London, their position in Jacksonville is far from steady, and they have an agreement to play at England’s iconic football stadium.

This is in addition to the NFL’s own agreement with Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, agreeing to play two games per season until 2030.

The outside of Wembley Stadium as it gets ready for the Jaguars vs Atlanta.
Wembley Stadium hosted the Jacksonville Jaguars vs the Atlanta Falcons

In an interview with Jaguars UK, Khan said: “We’re going to be at Wembley Stadium for the long-term. 

“How many total games? I think we’re going to take it maybe year by year.

“That trend is gonna continue.”

Despite the efforts of Khan and Co., the UK is far from Jag’s Country.

According to YouGov, the Dallas Cowboys carry that honour, followed by the Chicago Bears, New York Giants and Miami Dolphins. 

Hodgson, a lifelong Dolphins fan, added: “A lot of the most popular teams here are still those teams from the 1980s when the sport first came on.

“The likes of the Niners, Dolphins, Bears, the Cowboys, Giants, New York Jets.

“A lot of younger fans are Patriots fans because they often were in the Superbowl.”

The 1980s were heady days for the NFL in the UK.

Channel 4 ran highlights weekly and the World League of American Football (WLAF) burst onto the scene in 1989.

London’s Monarchs were the first champions of the World Bowl, 1991/92.

However, by 1998, due diminishing returns, the UK was abandoned as the Monarchs relocated to Berlin as the Thunders.

Rebranded as NFL Europe, the international competition folded in 2007.

Running back, 2007 onwards

The NFL has been back in Blighty since 2007, when Miami Dolphins hosted the New York Giants in the first International Series game.

The league’s new strategy is to grow grassroots engagement in the league and promote the sport.

Programmes have been launched in London and the UK more broadly.

Launched in 2021, NFL Foundation UK committed a combined £1 million with the Greater London Authority from April 2022 to March 2024.

The league’s charitable arm says it provides grants, training, and equipment to local community organisations to help young people develop life skills.

NFL Academy UK has also partnered with Loughborough University.

The academy offers student athletes, aged 16-19, the opportunity to combine education with life skills and training in American football.

One American student, a New Orleans Saints fan, commented: “When I first came to the UK nobody watched NFL, but now my friends are obsessed.

“They’re starting to like it even more than me!”

America’s game also features on mainstream TV through the NFL Show on ITV and NFL Endzone on Channel 5, where Monday night’s games can also be found.

Although, none of these have broken into the top 50 most viewed programmes, according to BARB.

The British American Football Association

As well as its own programmes, the NFL is working with the British American Football Association, BAFA.

Tony Snow, BAFA’s Head of Communications said: “British American Football works very closely with NFL UK.

“The NFL London Games offer a springboard to build on these foundations and working closely with the NFL here continues to prove to be a huge asset.

“We received coverage over recent international successes in Flag and Contact and are working with broadcasters to provide access to domestic Britball games next season.”

Great Britain’s Women recently won the European Flag Football Championship in Ireland and the non-contact sport is apparently bound for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, USA.

With NFL matches, charities, university programs, and plans for the native game, American football looks to be set for big things in the UK.

The greatest hurdle is to grow a truly mainstream audience and take the sport away from niche novelty.

If you are interested in playing the sport, find a club on the BAFA website.

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