There are two pieces of evidence which suggest today's third annual NFL game in London between the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers is a big deal. First, the tickets sold out more quickly than a Springsteen concert in Jersey. Secondly, Roger Goodell takes every opporunity to tell us how big a deal these games are in London. He is so confident in the NFL's presence over there that he plans to add another game and, eventually, a franchise in the British capital city.
Goodell said Friday that "every indicator" shows the British market can support more games, and that having a franchise here is of "tremendous interest" to the league.
Unfortunately for Goodell and the NFL, there's much more compelling evidence that the NFL in London isn't as big a deal as they're making it seem. Anecdotally, I've heard from numerous people that the game is receiving as little buzz across the pond as it is in the States. (Seriously, did you even know there was an overseas game today?)
This morning, John Taylor, an assistant sports editor at The Washington Times who was in London this week, tweeted:
Oh, the Patriots are playing in England. That explains the people in #Patriots gear yesterday. Game getting zero media buildup over there.
Seriously, I was in UK for a week and a half, and this morning, back in the USA, is the first I've heard of Patriots/Bucs.
When he says "zero media buildup," he means it. This morning I went to five of the biggest British news sites and looked for any mention of the NFL game. The results directly contradicted Goodell's assertion that there is "tremendous interest" in the league.
There are 144 stories on the front page of the Daily Mail's Web site, none of which are about Bucs/Patriots. Stories about X-Factor stars and second-tier soccer games? Check. NFL? Zilch.
The Guardian similarly makes no mention of today's NFL action in the city, nor does the front page of the BBC's site or The Sunday Times. In fact, searching through British news sites, the only evidence I could find that an NFL game was to be played in the city today was on The Telegraph's site. That story was only tangentially related to the NFL, though, as it was about Ronde Barber's(notes) "admiration" of British soccer sensation Wayne Rooney.
What about the sellout, though? Doesn't that have to count for something? Not really. The NFL selling out a game at Wembley doesn't mean London wants American football any more than it means America wants soccer because people bought 75,000 seats to a Chelsa-AC Milan exhibition in Baltimore.
If there was "tremendous interest," it would merit more than one front page story on five of the biggest news sites in London. And there'd be a real buzz going through the city, not manufactured NFL hype. If there's viable overseas interest, the NFL would be stupid not to consider expanding. If there's not, they'd be foolish to pursue such a lofty goal. The league needs to be careful not to confuse novelty with viability.