Since 2007, at least one National Football League (NFL) game has been hosted in London every year, aside from last year of course.
The London Games, as they have come to be known, are a staple of the NFL calendar each year and draw sell-out crowds despite being about 3,500 miles away from the nearest NFL stadium.
The idea came about when the NFL proposed to play a regular-season game outside of the United States in 2005. The Arizona Cardinals were changing stadiums and were interested in playing a game abroad that season.
NFL UK were given the chance to pitch in an effort to host the game in London. It was ultimately played in Mexico, but the idea of a game in London was now on the NFL’s radar.
David Tossell, PR Director at NFL UK, explains how the decision came to be: “We’d done a lot of the groundwork already. We were able to go to the owners and say ‘this is how a game would work.’
“It made it an easy decision in the end for the owners to decide to play that first official international game in London.”
It was announced in February 2007 the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants would face each other in London that year. Tossell says that London made sense because if the NFL wanted to be seen as international, hosting a game in London “felt like the way to do it.”
Along with the NFL being keen on the idea, the decision-makers in London were on board. The Mayor’s Office and the London Tourist Board were interested in the opportunity to boost London’s profile in North America. The BBC were also interested as they would have the opportunity to broadcast the game.
Tossell says the BBC were “very excited about it” as there was an interest to broadcast the NFL but they could only show sports that had some pull in Britain. This game gave them that reason, and every Super Bowl had been broadcast on the BBC since.
The logistics of putting the game together were far from simple. NFL UK had to find a way to get two NFL teams to play a game in a timezone five hours ahead of their usual one in the middle of a season. They would also have to organise where the teams would practice, their accommodation and working spaces for the two coaching staffs.
Finally, on October 28 2007, the Miami Dolphins faced the New York Giants at Wembley Stadium. Tossell explains what it was like to have gone from what initially seemed like a “pipe dream” to what was now a reality.
He says “there was a moment before the game where my boss and I turned to each other… you had one of those moments. ‘Wow, we actually did this, we actually pulled this off. Who would have thought? It was very rewarding.”
The game itself was far from a classic. Played in the pouring rain, the Giants beat the Dolphins 13-10, but the event in its totality was a major success, so much so that every season since has seen at least one NFL game, excluding 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
What also helped NFL UK was that the New York Giants would go on an incredible run to win the Super Bowl that season. Tossell says this helped boost the London Games.
“The combination of things like that happening and the reaction to the game meant that by the time [the] Super Bowl came around, it was pretty much being confirmed that we would be playing another game the following year.”
Since that first game, 27 NFL games have been played in London across three stadiums, with two more scheduled to take place during this upcoming season.
What seemed like a far fetched idea at first is now a staple of the NFL calendar and will continue as the NFL keeps growing in the UK.