NFL is an incredibly popular sport in America. Yet that popularity does not translate as well around the world. The NFL is a huge money-making machine but it can’t compete with some other sports that have greater international appeal. Why then does no one from Europe watch NFL and how can they be enticed to?
To understand how to attract Europeans to watch NFL we must first understand the sporting behavior of these nations. All European countries are strong followers of football (not the NFL but the soccer variety). Of course in Europe, it is not called soccer. In fact, there are only 35 nations in the world where football is not the number one watched sport. These games are part of their local culture where supporting a team is seeing as part of a family ritual, it is important. The games are 90 minutes long and from start to finish, the entire activity is finished in about two hours.
Now consider the NFL. The sport is a bigger commitment as it takes a full day to watch a game due to the long breaks and it requires a completely different approach. This is the first reason Europeans don’t watch NFL. The sport is viewed as too driven by money and not driven enough by fan entertainment. There are too many ads, too much sponsorship, and the fans are left sitting and waiting for far too long. While some people would argue that football is a more boring sport, as so many games finish 1-0, others would argue that at least they are watching a game and no ad breaks.
Rugby is also hugely popular in Europe, particularly in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, and Italy. These nations don’t see a need for American football when they believe that they have a better version of the sport at home. Rugby is a more physical game with similar tackles taking place yet without the reliance on padding and supports. It is a more exciting game with fewer breaks in play.
American football is also a complicated sport and few Europeans are willing to take the time to learn the complexities of it. Rugby is an equally complex sport but nations were raised watching this so the complexity is welcomed. The Superbowl is one of the only American football events that is watched in Europe because it is seen as a spectacle worth tuning in for.
If the NFL wants to win more viewers from Europe it needs to either change some things about American football or change how it markets the sport to the rest of the world. If the number of ad breaks could be reduced and the time shortened it may garner more interest, but this is unlikely to happen as it is a huge risk to the current fan base without a guaranteed reward.
Instead the NFL may need to learn from the growth of social media today. If the NFL could share some exciting moments in games that capture not only excellent plays but the competitive atmosphere between teams and the close rivalries that exist, it may start to capture the hearts and minds of other nations.
At present Europeans only know the names of a few teams and that Tom Brady is the best QB of all time. If there was more information disseminated that showed the sport as the pinnacle of athletic performance, as one full of heated rivalries, as a sport of giants then audiences outside of America may start to take it more seriously. Until that point, American football (and also baseball and hockey) faces an uphill battle to winning over fans.