In the heart of London, I was able to feel a sense of home as I stood alongside fans in Wembley and Tottenham Stadium. Witnessing the two games of the 2023 NFL Series in London was an incredibly captivating experience. It was remarkable to see supporters from diverse corners of the globe uniting in their shared love for football.
The National Football League has hosted a total of 36 games in London since 2007 and has hosted at least one game a year since, except for 2020. The NFL hosts games in London in hopes that football will be permanently present in the country and expand its fanbase in the long run.
On Sunday, Oct. 1, I was able to watch the Atlanta Falcons play the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium. In addition, I watched the Baltimore Ravens play against the Tennessee Titans at Tottenham Hotspur.
I was fortunate at the first game I attended as tickets were only around $40. As I am living in Vauxhall, the trip to Wembley Stadium was rather quick and getting home was not difficult. However, the second game I attended at Tottenham Stadium was much more expensive, and getting home was an absolute disaster, as the streets were closed off and train stations were closed due to overflow; a two-hour bus back was the only option.
When attending the first game, it was incredible to see how well Wembley Park was decorated. Colors of teal, black and gold flooded the streets with pictures of the Jaguars players everywhere. As we walked into the stadium, there was about half of a mile-long area where food trucks and stands with merch and apparel were on both sides of you.
Wembley Stadium was definitely a cleaner, and more efficient stadium for an NFL game to be held at, compared to Tottenham Stadium. In addition, Wembley Park is a way more accessible area, and even after the game, their crowds were way more manageable to exit the building as there were way more pubs and restaurants surrounding the stadium for people to exit.
Before both games, the National Anthem of the United Kingdom was sung, “God Save the King,” followed by the National Anthem of the United States, “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
The juxtaposition of “God Save the King” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” shed light on the unity in diversity within the NFL as a whole. The visual representation of both flags held side by side, with the NFL logo centered in the middle, efficiently communicated that the love for football transcends borders.
Fans at the game, wearing different jerseys, demonstrated support for all teams in the NFL, even in London. In addition, overhearing diverse accents on the trains highlighted the international appeal of the sport, which was successfully achieved. Many fans at the game were specifically only in London for the game and were not even specifically fans of the teams on the field.
From a marketing perspective, I was able to see how successful the NFL is at bringing a football fan base to London, a country where football is not a prioritized sport. At the Jaguars game specifically, they had a successful idea of handing out flags with both teams on them, which stated to them how the game was being held in London. The flags were given to every fan, and it was a great way to market the game as fans were all waving their flags throughout the game.
At both games, the atmosphere was overall positive, and people not only shared their common love for football but for music as well.
A distinct memory I have from the game at Tottenham is watching all the fans on the screen singing “Mr. Brightside”. Just like music, sports can be a universal language, uniting people from all over the world, by creating a shared experience that goes beyond cultural and geographic boundaries.
The success of the NFL in drawing fans to London was evident not only in the attendance but also in the vibrant atmosphere created. The flags that were distributed at the Jaguar game were not just accessories, they were symbols of the shared experience, waved by fans from all different parts of the world.
The diversity among the fans not only reflected the global appeal of the NFL but also showcased a cultural exchange happening right there in both of the stadiums. Watching fans converse with different team jerseys and sharing the joy of the game highlighted how the NFL serves as a platform for people from various backgrounds to connect through a common passion.
Before the start of the game at Tottenham, a moment of silence was held for the Israeli-Gaza conflict. This moment of silence revealed potential challenges in managing diverse opinions within a global fanbase, as during the moment of silence, fans shouted their stance in this conflict.
This part of the game served as a reminder that, even though sports can unite fans, they can also become arenas for the expression of deeply held and diverse perspectives that are beyond the realm of the game itself.
In essence, attending two NFL games while studying in London went beyond the thrill of the sport, as it provided a unique lens to the interconnectedness of a global fanbase and the power of sports in transcending borders, and challenges that could potentially follow when navigating diverse perspectives. Both games left a lasting impression on me, not just as a football fan, but as an observer of the cultural exchange and values that the NFL portrays on an international stage.