American football is a powerhouse sport in the United States, but its popularity is also increasing within the UK.
Superbowl Sunday is quickly approaching and fans across the globe are waiting with baited
breath to see if the San Francisco 49ers or Kansas City Chiefs will win the coveted Lombardi
Trophy in Las Vegas, Nevada on 11 February. American football is often seen as a mix of
two more globally dominating sports – football and rugby – with the game being invented in
the latter half of the 19th century. The NFL was created only in 1920 with ten teams
for the entire US, it later expanded to the American football powerhouse it is today: a league that encompasses people’s lives and pays its players millions of dollars each year. In the 100 or so years since the NFL’s creation, it has over tripled the number of teams and created die-hard superfans not only in the US, but across the world. In the UK, multiple amateur leagues, clubs, and societies for the sport have shown up around the country, including Glasgow and specifically at the university.
This growing connection between the UK and the sport has grown exponentially since the
2007 introduction of regular-season games played in London (with Germany being
incorporated in 2022), with the 2023 season’s Denver Broncos v Jacksonville Jaguars game
superseding 85,000 in attendance according to Sky Sports. The yearly visits, which constantly alternate teams crossing the Atlantic to perform and play, have created a steady fan base that travels from all over to see their favourite teams in action.
I spoke to a member of the GU Tigers (the University of Glasgow’s very own American
football team), Ryan O’Malley, who believes that “the increase in [UK] coverage of the NFL, with Sky Sports, BBC, and ITV all broadcasting NFL games and shows,” is something that has created a more readily accessible platform enabling us to keep up to date on a sport that is played three thousand miles away. American football societies in universities create further comradery around the sport, enabling its members to meet others who are also interested in the sport, even if it is their first time. Along with the large number of university societies and clubs dedicated to the sport, there has been a large increase in youth American football with the GU Tigers also running an academy with flag football (a non-contact version of the sport) being taught under the programme.
This introduction of the sport in youth clubs, which has continued to grow since the late nineties and early noughties, has opened the door to the founding of a UK-exclusive American football league – the UKFL (UK Football League). The new and upcoming league is reported to be supporting the increase of new talent from across the UK to create a strong talent base for the creation of eight teams split into two separate conferences (north and south), similar to the AFC and NFC that will hopefully echo the NFL’s support. The UKFL is reported on their website to be beginning their entire league in May 2025, possibly giving cities their own teams. Could this addition to the UK assist in increasing support with teams closer to home? Time will tell.
The 2024 Superbowl will turn more heads towards the game, especially as the Kansas City
Chiefs return to the highly sought-after final after beating the Philadelphia Eagles in last
year’s game. The next few years will be particularly telling of the future of the NFL in the UK,
American football, and the possibility of a UK professional league. I for one am very excited
to see what the future holds for the sport and can’t wait to watch the bound-to-be exciting
Superbowl. Go Chiefs!