BRAND HEALTH CHECK: American Football - Can the NFL Get Brits to Turn on the Super Bowl?

Article excerpt

American football's showpiece event is back on terrestrial TV in January. How should the NFL promote the sport to a UK audience that lost interest in the 1980s?

Last week the US sat down to eat Thanksgiving dinner. No turkey was spared, and coupled with liberal portions of cranberry jelly and pumpkin pie, most Americans settled down to watch the nation's favourite game, American football.

All games lead to the pinnacle of the NFL (National Football League) season, the Super Bowl - this season numbered XXXVII and taking place in San Diego, California, on Sunday, January 26, 2003.

But the NFL now wants to turn the Super Bowl into a major date in the UK sporting calendar. It is in talks with UK-based creative and media agencies about developing a dedicated marketing campaign designed to build enthusiasm for the event.

There was a time in the UK when the game was popular. The Super Bowl was first shown in the UK in 1983 and watched by one million people. By Super Bowl XX in 1986 this had grown to about four million viewers. Its rising popularity was due to a number of reasons, one being the fact that during the early 80s there was very little sport on TV.

There were only 14 live UK football games a year and any sport you could watch you grabbed with both hands. Broadcasting finished each evening with a white dot and the national anthem. Nothing happened past midnight.

The fact that people were given the chance to watch sport into the night was new and gratefully accepted.

That it was new and interesting was part of its downfall. As the novelty wore off, other niche sports began to erode the NFL's popularity. By 1997/98 Channel 4's viewing figures were down to one million. This year the event will be shown live on terrestrial TV for the first time since 1998 by Five and also, as usual, on Sky Sports.

Marketing asked Steven Pearson, founder of Sportacus, Europe's first stadia naming rights specialists and previously commercial director of the FA Premier League, and Steve Copestake, vice-president of marketing for Buena Vista International Television, who previously worked at Sky, for their thoughts.

VITAL SIGNS
NFL Europe League average attendance figures

                             2001          2002
Amsterdam Admirals         13,258        11,664
Barcelona Dragons            9467          8896
Berlin Thunder               9263          9914
Frankfurt Galaxy           30,535        33,904
Rhein Fire                 35,010        32,742
Scottish Claymores         13,904        11,189
Average                    18,573        18,309

Source: NFL Europe

DIAGNOSIS

Steven Pearson

If the Super Bowl is to appeal to a UK audience, a few changes are necessary. Firstly, teach David Beckham to run with a ball or play linebacker. And don't let him wear a helmet. Also make the game last no longer than 90 minutes. …