Munich (AFP) – Seattle Seahawks fan Lucas Spies was shocked by what he noticed during a football match in Stuttgart a few weeks ago.
“This old man who was just a few rows in front of me was playing fantasy football on his phone,” said Spice, president of the German Seahawkers fan club. “It’s not something I expected.”
The NFL has arrived in Germany.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play the Seahawks at Munich’s Allianz Arena on Sunday in the first regular-season National Football League game in Germany. Over the next three seasons, Munich will host another and Frankfurt.
On a larger scale, Germany has now overtaken Britain as the largest market for the NFL in Europe.
“Game Pass has more subscribers, sells more consumer products in Germany than the UK, sells more Madden video game, and comparable TV rights,” Brett Gosper, president of the NFL UK and Europe, told the AP in an interview.
Gosper said the UK and Germany each have 3.3 million “hungry fans” for the NFL in a category that has been growing rapidly for both, but Germany has a slightly more “casual” fan – 17 million. London has hosted regular season matches since 2007.
Germany has overtaken Britain in the past 12 months, Gosper said at a recent sports marketing conference in Dusseldorf.
With the largest economy in Europe, Germany was not thinking about the NFL and the country had supported American football in the past. The NFL ultimately failed, but in its final season in 2007, five of the six teams were German. Frankfurt Galaxy and Ren Fire in particular drew good crowds.
The interest really took off after 2015, when the games became easily accessible to viewers on a prominent free-to-air channel.
“I feel like it’s accelerating dramatically,” said Spiess, a 31-year-old software engineer. With the help of social media too, there’s a lot of hype around. Being a fan of American football is great now.”
Gosper acknowledged that the NFL was “perhaps a little late” in coming to Germany and said adding Game 17 to the schedule was key.
“This (extra game) enabled us to move to Germany, but it was probably a ready market to watch the NFL game here a lot earlier,” Gosper said at the SPOBIS conference in late September.
Alexander Steinfurth, general manager of the NFL for Germany, admitted it was “extremely beneficial” to have seven-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady headline the first league game in Germany.
But he said interest in the league trumps any star.
“The excitement is so great that you can almost take out any team to play in Germany and people love to come to the match,” said Steinfurth.
The online queue when tickets went on sale in July reached 770,000, although it is not clear if some of them are bots or if that number of people are using devices. In any case, demand was more than double the London Games, which usually sell out quickly.
“I was trying to use three different devices,” said Spies, who shot and then tickets landed through a friend in Seattle. “A lot of people are still very hopeful that they can find two tickets left.”
He said a lot of German fans come to Munich even without tickets, “to get as much experience as possible”.
The Allianz Arena, the home of the Bayern Munich football club, can accommodate 75,000 fans.
The Bucs is one of four teams with international marketing rights in Germany. The others are the Carolina Panthers, the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots. This means that they can attract fans and business deals in the country.
The Bucs will get a boost from hosting, but the other three are all holding events in Munich this week as well, to gather as many “undecided” fans as possible.
“Not only is it a great pool, but the demographics of that community are very valuable,” Mark Donovan, chief of presidents, said, referring to the 18- to 34-year-old age group. “A large part of this demo has already signaled a desire to get involved in the NFL. They follow the NFL somehow — players, teams, league — and they are hesitant.”
The NFL and the Bundesliga recently agreed to collaborate on fan acquisition and broadcast technology. Teams with rights in countries can work with individual clubs, as the Panthers did in hosting a viewing party with Eintracht Frankfurt.
The Germans got a taste of football when American troops stationed here organized matches in the 1970s. The German Football League began in 1979, and the country has a football-style club system that develops young players.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the pre-season game in August 1990 was a turning point. The Chiefs played the Los Angeles Rams at the Olympic Stadium in West Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall and before reunification.
Media reports said there were 55,000 fans, many of whom did not understand the game but loved aspects of Americana such as the tail, fans, and Frisbee chase dogs.
“It ignited our passion to say we really believe we can bring more football here in Europe,” Goodell said at a fan forum in London last month.
The early version of NFL Europe was launched the following spring.
Meanwhile, the European Football League recently completed its second season, with seven of its 12 teams in Germany before expanding in 2023. The NFL allowed the new league to use team names from its NFL days in Europe.
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