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The View From Wembley: Still Plenty of Challenges for the NFL in England

While on vacation, I had watched the Patriots play the Rams at Wembley Stadium. The game was fun for Patriots fans but showed the NFL has a long way to go if they want to penetrate the British market.

Before I start my little blog, I just wanted to wish the best for everyone in dealing with the hurricane. A lot of us including the Patriots may be here for a bit more than expected but we’ll be hoping that everything turns out OK.

As I write this, a group of very happy Patriots fans are celebrating the win in the lounge next to me. A little happy with perhaps a little too much to drink, the fans made up of a tour group from New England have turned the Kensington section of London into a pro-Patriots area.

With the weather that is currently heading to New England, we may all be here a little longer than we expected. As I wrote that, a fan wearing a Patriots’ scarf was pushed to the hotel lobby in a shopping cart so their welcome may be worn out soon.

While planning to visit my sister in London in what has turned out to be a poorly timed vacation if you are a reported looking for a story or well planned if you are my mother, I realized that the Patriots’ game in London was happening around the same time so why not get a ticket and go? It’s not often that the chance to watch a game in one of England’s most famous stadiums comes up so might as well take advantage of it.

Simply put, Wembley Stadium is one of the most beautiful stadiums in the world and the best one I have ever been to. Maybe it’s the history behind the current stadium and the old Wembley Stadium with all the great soccer matches, boxing fights, and concerts that have happened there, but when you walk into that stadium, you cannot help but admire the beauty and size of England’s national stadium.

The change of venue was nice but the atmosphere was a failed attempt to create a Rams’ home game. It may have technically been a home game for the Rams, but this certainly wasn’t the Edward Jones Dome. From the flags handed out with the Rams’ logo on it before the game from the banners passed in the end zones, it was as close to a game in St. Louis as you can get without actually being in St. Louis.

While Patriot fans are enjoying the win, the locals who were at the game were less joyous about what they saw. The NFL can say it as much as they want but after talking to locals, the NFL is not going to work here beyond neutral site games that are basically a novelty to the local sport fans.

Granted the sold out stadium of 84,000 people that came to the game does make a case for a team but after last year’s USA/Spain soccer match and the Manchester United/Revolution friendly at Gillette Stadium, there weren't a lot of people clamoring for MLS tickets in the weeks after both matches. In the end it’s an attraction that comes by once a year.

The soccer/football comparisons don’t end there. Across the pond, their American football fans are like our soccer fans. They may be small in number but they are loyal to whatever team they choose to follow. There were fans with a range of jerseys on from the Packers to the Bengals to the Steelers but there are a lot more who watch the game and don’t know what is happening. With the 3-plus hour game time, I’m not sure how many people are going to make that time commitment to learn the game.

Ending close to 8:30 p.m. local time, the 3.5-hour game is substantially longer than a soccer match, which for the most part starts and finishes in less than two hours. As I was leaving and heading towards the train, I talked to a pair of British gentlemen who were not American football fans. Their feelings about game were as I predicted as I watched the third quarter slowly drag on. “Too slow,” they said. For as much as we hear complaints on the game length in the states, it is much worse in England.

The feeling was once again expressed by an Italian gentleman I talked to at my hotel who called the game, “boring and slow.” We Americans may be use to 3-plus hour football matches and baseball games, but when a country’s most popular sport finishes in less than two-thirds of the time it takes to play a football game, that is a large hurdle to get through. 

As you may of heard on TV, the fans were not too fond of the victory formation. I can't say if it was from a lack of understanding of the game or just a desire to see an effort until the end of the game, but that was something they simply did not care for.

The idea that fans from separate teams can sit together was something that was a welcomed addition however. In soccer, visiting fans usually must purchase tickets through their club and sit in a section especially for their team’s supporters in an effort to cut down on fights.

While the hooliganism that once existed in England is not a prevalent as it once was, it does highlight the differences in fanbases. On the other side of town, rivals Chelsea and Manchester United were playing a fierce match for first place in the English Premier League.

Granted I have attended a grand total of one soccer match in England but I have a feeling that those fans sitting together with minimal security would make a Bruins/Flyers match look like a tea party in comparison.

As the NFL talks about expansion to London, there has to be doubts about how popular the games will be when it would go from one or two games a year to 10 games a year.

Unlike this and previous years, there are not going to be two set of fans flying in to watch the game and take a vacation. What is going to happen when they don’t have a live band for the preshow and pump up rallies every weekend? How are the west coast teams going to feel about the extensive travel it will take to get there?

After the latest London match, one has to wonder how they will handle the two games that will take place in 2013 if the feeling is that the game is too slow. When it is all said and done, American football in England is nice, but like the Patriot fans in my hotel, it may be best to not overstay the welcome.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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