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NFL in London: A British fan's perspective


LONDON -- The NFL returns to play its sixth International Series game in London on Sunday, with the St. Louis Rams and New England Patriots battling it out on the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium, and it's at about this time each year that fans back in the "home" of football start to wring their hands over whether or not teams should travel abroad to play in front of a non-American audience.

Having tracked the responses from U.S.-based fans year after year in comments on and fan forums, the vitriol normally goes something like this:

"They've got their football, why do they need ours?"

"Over there they call it American Football, so why doesn't it stay in America?"

"People there don't understand the game, so why should the NFL give them one? It's a waste."

"They had NFL Europe and it failed, they don't deserve a second chance."

"They've got rugby, we've got football. Keep it that way."

Truth is, though, that football is followed just as passionately in the United Kingdom as it is in its homeland. While there aren't as many fans in the UK and around the rest of the globe, they are just as passionate and knowledgeable about the sport as fans that show up week after week to support their favorite teams across the United States.

Consider the sacrifices that fans overseas have to make to follow the game. On Sundays in the UK, the "early" NFL games kick off at 6 p.m., with "Sunday Night Football" at the ungodly hour of 1:30 a.m.

Tens of thousands of fans stay up to watch that game, and then do it all over again on Monday night, just to be able to follow their favorite sport. Many ensure that they can track their favorite NFL teams throughout the season by buying the NFL's excellent NFL Game Pass product, which allows them to live stream games on their laptops or tablets, but at $100 for the season, you certainly would need to be a fan to buy it.

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Other fans will spend thousands to travel over once a year to see their favorite team in action in its home city, buying up as much merchandise as they can fit into their suitcases on the journey home so that they can own the authentic product of the NFL.

In terms of the depth of knowledge about the sport, fans overseas will consume as much information and content as they can about the NFL. Sit down with any British NFL fan, and they'll happily spend hours discussing the same things that fans in the U.S. would chat about.

How is Tony Romo still the Dallas Cowboys QB? How much longer will the New York Jets stick with Mark Sanchez? Who's going to win the NFC North? The same coherent, cogent conversations are taking place among NFL fans in the UK as back home in America. And what's more, those same conversations are going on in different languages around the world on a daily basis, too.

What's the point of all of this? As a British NFL fan transplanted to live and work in the U.S., I see the arguments against games being played overseas every time it's brought up by the NFL, and while many are logically thought out, the vast majority are of the knee-jerk type mentioned above.

The NFL has fans around the world, and they are growing in numbers each year -- in part due to the presence of NFL games in the UK. So instead of demanding that the NFL stop playing those games, fans in the U.S. should allow the NFL's global fan base its day in the sun (or drizzle) so that they can have a taste of what makes football the best sport in the world.

Follow Henry Hodgson on Twitter @nflukhank.

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