A 2017 NFL UK game between the Cardinals and Rams.

The NFL has been all about boosting its presence in the United Kingdom in recent years, pushing towards more and more games there and bringing in stadiums other than Wembley. But the extra overseas games have been criticized on several fronts, from players’ complaining about the travel and its effects on them to disapproval from teams and fans to discussions of these games’ effects on pre-game show ratings.

But a notable recent development, and one that might hurt the NFL’s plans of putting a team in London permanently, is a new YouGov survey suggesting that a whole lot of Britons don’t have much interest in the NFL.

Bloomberg’s Adam Blenford has more:

A YouGov survey of 1,616 British adults ranked “American football” as the nation’s second-dullest sport to watch, with 59 percent of respondents rating it “very or quite boring,” while just 18 percent think it’s exciting. Only golf fared worse – a local game, to be sure, but one facing well-documented challenges finding new players and audiences. A full 70 percent find that sport painful to watch.

… The NFL is planning a big year in Britain after several years of steady growth. Rather than just one regular season game in London as happened between 2007 and 2012, the schedule has expanded, with London hosting four games in 2017. The lineup for 2018 will be announced on Thursday, and is expected to include the first at Tottenham Hotspur’s as-yet unfinished stadium in north London. The 61,599-capacity venue includes a retractable field designed specifically to accommodate the NFL, and a 10-year deal is in place. 

And while the live fans are suitably enthusiastic about the action, the key to YouGov’s finding perhaps lies in viewers who can’t tell their quarterbacks from their cornerbacks. The NFL is broadcast only on pay-TV network Sky Sports with a weekly highlights show and the Super Bowl on the free-to-air BBC. Despite years of outreach and brief cultural breakthroughs (such as William “The Fridge” Perry), the game remains very much a minority sport.

Here’s the graphic from the YouGov survey:

It should be noted that games in London aren’t all about local fans and viewers. As we’ve covered before, a big part of the plan is actually about giving the NFL an extra national TV window (generally, a 9:30 a.m. Eastern start) in the U.S., and the broadcasts of these games have brought in significant revenue and viewers.

But that has downsides. The early games take away large numbers of viewers from the networks’ pre-game shows (which are quite important for advertising purposes), and it contributes to the general over-saturation of NFL broadcasts, which many (including CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus, in a rare public reversal) have cited as a significant factor in falling NFL ratings. So in addition to their struggles abroad, these games aren’t a guaranteed win at home, either.

All surveys should be taken with grains of salt, of course, and there are a few potential quibbles with this one. For one, these results are from people who have watched the sport in question, so even if they thought it was boring, they still count as viewers and may still watch again. (Even “boring” can be acceptable background noise sometimes, and that viewership still counts.)

For another, YouGov surveyed adults across Britain, and while their takes matter for local TV ratings, how Londoners in particular feel about the NFL is much more relevant to the attendance numbers for these games and to the potential for placing a team there permanently. And it should be noted that there have been many reports of these games seeing significant attendance from Americans who live and work in London, and they count too (and are probably less likely than Britons to declare American football “boring”). So one survey doesn’t necessarily mean the NFL’s UK strategy is doomed.

And it should be noted that there are significant reasons for the league to continue to try and tap international markets. Growth there on a number of fronts seems more likely than domestic growth, where it’s getting awfully hard to find new revenue streams or dramatically enlarge existing ones. But we can add this to the growing pile of evidence that there are problems with the league’s approach, and that growth in Britain isn’t necessarily as achievable or as much of a sure win as has been claimed.

The NFL has put huge resources into promoting the sport in Britain, and has done so for over a decade now; the first regular-season game in London was played in 2007, and at least one has followed every year. For their game to still be seen as “quite boring” by so many respondents isn’t a great validation of what they’ve done to this point. It might even rise to the point of telling the league, “Stop trying to make London happen. It’s not going to happen.”

[Bloomberg]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing.

  • Carter_Burger67

    NFL Europe failed, but the NFL keeps plugging away. Meanwhile ratings and attendance in this country keep dropping. Roger Goodell is singlehandedly destroying the greatest professional sports league and all we can to is watch and laugh.

    • noonan18

      That’s a good point. Maybe get your own ship in order before you start trying to expand to other countries. Because the ship at home is slowly sinking.

      • Carter_Burger67

        Slowly? Nah, NFL has big troubles. NCAA football ratings are up and the NFL is down…a lot. I haven’t watched an entire game all season and I haven’t missed it. Lots more people are discovering that and that’s bad news for the NFL…But Goodell continues like it’s business as usual.

  • I would take the survey with a grain of salt. Almost as many Brits surveyed find soccer dull as find it exciting. This suggests to me there are a lot in the UK – maybe more than in the US – who find sports to be dull overall.

    • Scott Simons

      Did you misread snooker as soccer? The graph shows that 40% of Brits find football (soccer in the US) to be boring. That is far better than the 59% of Brits that find American football boring.

      Snooker has a 57% boring score. That is about the same as American football, which is another way of saying Brits have not warmed to the sport.

    • Luke Curtis

      That is probably more about the sheer volume of Soccer on TV, in the season you can watch games virtually every week on Sat at 12.15, & 5.30, Sunday 1330 & 1600, Mon & Friday 2000 and about half the season you have European matches on Tue, Wed and Thur nights as well, sometimes twice a night, it overwhelms ever other sport in the UK.

      • zachattachone

        There is a lot of football/soccer, but it is more difficult and quite tough to watch it over there, unless you make a concerted effort to get it. We actually have much greater access to it here in the U.S. presently (although our model is slowly changing to be more like the U.K.) because of the third-party Cable provider subscription model that gives you access to all channels with one subscription and it is relatively inexpensive to get the less valuable soccer programming.

        In the U.K., only content producers sell directly to individuals, and somewhat like the NFL here, all the games are not available on television domestically, although all PL games have international feeds that you can get in the U.S. from NBC (not as easy not with PL Gold, but you can still get it), and there is no Sunday Ticket-type option in the UK.

        For example, Premier League has two domestic TV partners SKY and BT, that each show a couple matches per match week. But if you want access to all those broadcasts, you have to buy a SkyTV box and a separate BT box from each company. Champions League is exclusively on BT as well. BBC and ITV have lost PL rights and have limited access to the WC as well.

        • Hoot_Gibson

          What you forget is that millions view edited PL games at the weekend on the BBC and ITV networks that includes European cup games.
          Watching edited highlights of all match’s played is far more popular than watching a whole match on overpriced Sky or BT.
          No doubt Netflix will flex its incredible financial muscle and bid for the games I really hope so for a Sky Subscription including football ( the name of the game first used 900 years ago in England and in 150 countries around the world not soccer) costs $100 per week for Sky while I pay some $12 per week for Netflix so sod the Sky sports channel.
          Go figure who I prefer to watch and why even if it means losing real time sports.

  • sportsfan365

    It’s all about the endless commercial breaks. Sports in Europe is shown with very few/no commercial interruptions.

    • In American football, every down resets the game.

      In soccer and rugby, play can continue for minutes until a foul is committed.

      That makes them a better show for spectators at the stadium.

  • Simon Spero

    Given how often Jacksonville plays there, is it any wonder that there’s confusion about what a quarterback is?

    • noonan18

      Ouch!

  • If you don’t grow up playing/watching football, the complexity is a bit perplexing. But once you get it, football is awesome — no other sport so adroitly combines violence, precision and coordination.

    My wife had never seen it before we met, and her initial reaction was to giggle at the sight of many large grown men falling down at the end of every play.

    (Swimming? Seriously?)

  • noonan18

    “So one survey doesn’t necessarily mean the NFL’s UK strategy is doomed.”

    So then why write an article about it?

    • Son of Rusty Shackleford

      Because it’s Andrew Bucholtz writing it. He’s obviously never been real big on logic.

  • “just 18 percent think it’s exciting”

    That’s millions of people.

  • Chris

    For my part, I can’t stand watching American football in person, haven’t done it in years. Putting aside the fact that I didn’t really grow up caring about the Patriots(they’re in Foxborough for a reason), you would have to pay me to go down there on Saturday to watch 10 minutes of actual football action and not get home until 3 a.m.

  • 程肯

    What’s the baseline? What’s the result if you asked the same question of Americans? And, football is in a deadheat with darts, snooker and cricket. Those are all quite popular in the UK, if also quite boring. So, perhaps a question on boring is not necessarily a good measure of whether a sport will have enough fans to support it. I mean, F1 is supposedly an exciting sport and the UK is the home of F1, and it also scored a 49% in boringness.

  • Rowdy Roddy Pooper

    Brits dont care about players kneeling either.

  • Kristján Birnir Ívansson

    Could you image the English Premier League ship some of its game to other countries? I cannot and nether can you.