America's professional football league, the NFL, has announced that, for the first time ever, it will play a regular season game in London next season. For VOA News, Tom Rivers reports from the British capital.
For the National Football League, a game in London means competing in the global sports marketplace, and developing a greater presence beyond the border of the U.S.
To the British fans of the American sport, the game means a welcome return. A handful of pre-season NFL games were held here in the 1980s and '90s, but this time it is different. Those were exhibitions. This one counts.
Neil Reynolds from the NFL office in London says British followers of the American gridiron game are already well versed in the rules, and they will be ready to see a top-class contest. "We had all this interest in the mid- to late '80s and then we had the American Bowls up until '93 ... but the fan base never really went away. It is a very knowledgeable, hard core fan base. They have -- kind of have been itching for this action to come their way. And, it was talked about first among the NFL circles five years ago, and I think not everyone believed it would happen. But, you know, the commissioner now and the previous commissioner, Commissioner Tagliabue, worked hard to make it happen, as did the NFL London office, and it is a culmination of a lot of hard work," he said.
A lot of debate has gone on over the past couple of months in the league to get everything right, and, now, as Reynolds says, the details have all been worked out. "We are very pleased and excited to announce that the Miami Dolphins will be playing at London's Wembley Stadium. It will be a Dolphins home game. They are going to play the New York Giants. That game will take place on Sunday October 28th, 2007, and that will be a 6pm kick-off local time. So, yeah, very excited," he said.
The new Wembley Stadium which is nearing completion will hold around 90-thousand fans, and Neil Reynolds expects to see many fans from overseas coming for the event, and also to enjoy all that London has to offer. "The city of London and 'Visit London' and the mayor, Ken Livingstone, have been behind this right from the start, because they recognize this is not only a chance to showcase our sport. For them, it is a chance to showcase the city of London and to get back some of those American tourists. Get people back over here to see what the city has to offer. And so, they are really behind the whole project, and they are going to pull out all the stops (do all they can) to make it a weekend, or a week to remember. It will not just be, you know, one game. It will be quite a special time," he said.
The NFL hopes to stage one or two regular season games overseas each season over the next five years. And, if London proves successful, a return visit is a real possibility.
Also, tens-of-millions are expected to tune-in around the world.
In 2005, the NFL staged its first-ever regular-season game outside of the U.S. in Mexico City's Azetca stadium. The contest between the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers drew a crowd of more than 103-thousand fans.