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Super Bowl Attracts Overseas Fans - 2002-02-01


It is that time of year again when fans of American football join in a global huddle to check out the Super Bowl, the climax of the professional football season in America. Tom Rivers has the overseas view from London.

This Sunday, from Japan to Britain, people will be gathered around radios and televisions to tune in to Super Bowl 36, pitting the St. Louis Rams against the New England Patriots live from New Orleans.

In Britain, as in most parts of the world, American football will never replace soccer. But that does not mean no one will be taking notice.

The National Football League's chief spokesman in London, David Tossell says the season finale is being broadcast this year in 165 countries.

"That normally brings in a total viewership of about 800 million," he explains, "so there are certainly not too many people on the planet who will not be aware that the Super Bowl is going on and will have the opportunity to watch it."

And watch it they will. In Britain, for instance, a small minority of hard-core, dedicated fans have totally embraced American football. They typically gather each week in their favorite pub to watch a game broadcast live on satellite television. For them, the Super Bowl is a must see event.

"It is a perfect opportunity of everyone getting together, drinking some beers, eating plenty of food and just having a party," says a fan.

"It is great fun and everyone goes out and enjoys themselves," says another. "It is a good family atmosphere. No trouble and it is a fantastic spectacle."

"It is one of the great events," adds another football fan. "The atmosphere, the almost, the big Americanism of it. I love it. I just love it."

Keith Webster is the editor of First Down, a weekly American football newspaper published in Britain.

Mr. Webster says one indication of how popular U.S.-style football is becoming in Britain is that more and more people are betting on it, and not just the Super Bowl game.

"We have found that what has happened, in the last five years in particular, is that the betting has moved not so much away from Super Bowl but has moved into every week of the season now," he says. "The people in this country are regularly gambling from week one of the season right through to the Super Bowl."

Alan Hancock is one of those who does just that. Every week throughout the entire season, he places a few small bets on the games.

"In Britain it is great because if there are two flies crawling up the wall you can bet on which one gets to the top first. So, in England, we can bet on just about anything. American football is a great opportunity. If you think there is not going to be any penalty yardage in a game, you can bet on that," he explains. "It just lends itself to looking at the [statistics]. And at the end of the day with American football, it is a game of chess and therefore what you have got is looking at the pieces and how each team is going to play and you can actually try and work out where the advantages lie in the bets for you. "

And that growth in British sports betting is now reaching far beyond its shores. Graham Sharp is the chief spokesman for the William Hill bookmaking chain.

"Since we began to operate via the Internet, we have clients in over 200 countries of the world some of us did not even know there were two hundred countries of the world and it is quite incredible. We even have clients in Afghanistan," he says.

Come the Super Bowl, people will be watching from the four corners of the world. And in one little corner of England, Alan Hancock and his pals will be huddled around a TV set, enjoying the biggest day in their football calendar, with of course, a little wager on the game as well, just to make it a little more interesting.

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