American football duo Neil Reynolds and Jeff Reinebold believe Manchester is high up on the sport’s list of potential future destinations, after hosting another successful fan event in the city.
The pair, who head up Sky Sport’s NFL coverage, have spent the past two weeks on the road taking their lauded ‘Inside the Huddle’ podcast in front of live audiences around the UK.
And they told MM that Manchester’s response to the tour was one of the factors behind the NFL’s seemingly imminent expansion to our shores, as it capitalises on ever-rising fan engagement.
“The response has been phenomenal,” said Indiana-born coach Reinebold, current special teams coordinator for Canadian side the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
‘WORLD HAS SHRUNK’: Reynolds (left) and Reinebold presenting Inside the Huddle, the biggest NFL podcast outside of the USA
“We’ve had probably seven or eight times more requests for seats than we could accommodate, so hopefully this will be the start of taking it all over the UK.
“These types of events are all indicators to the people back in New York. They watch very closely how this is received, and the NFL are not afraid to change.”
The Point at Lancashire Cricket Club was the third of four English stops, which also included Edinburgh, Newcastle and Birmingham, and brought expert analysis to fans’ doorsteps.
Discussing technical issues, history and players as well as conducting training drills with the audience, the pair gripped the attention of the room and left those lucky enough to attend in fits of laughter.
“There’s a very knowledgeable fan base here, which is growing all the time,” said Reynolds, who has worked as an NFL reporter for 25 years.
“There’s a history to it, with a lot of people who followed it from the Channel 4 days in the 1980s, and the regular games have just taken it to a new level.
“The fan response is going from strength to strength – there has been no slowdown.”
This week’s show at Manchester coincided with Mark Waller of the NFL announcing plans for a London-based franchise as early as 2022 – a culmination of the second wind of Britain’s love affair with America’s favourite sport.
Wembley hosted the first International Series in 2007, an event which has grown and grown to force its inclusion as a staple of the historic NFL calendar.
“The world has shrunk,” states Reinebold, officially voted the sixth-biggest personality the Canadian Football League has ever seen.
“The NFL is much more accessible to fans than it has ever been before, and it’s such a good product – the personalities, the drama, the hype, all of it.
“Take the fan rallies, when they shut down Regent Street in London and 50,000 people are in the street. That’s an indication of just how much of an appetite there is for the game in this country.”
But how far can this appetite stretch? A room full of jerseys and smiles at Lancashire Cricket Club tells you that Reynolds and Reinebold have become a brand in themselves, despite the latter’s assertion that “we aren’t exactly rock stars”.
HUGE INDUSTRY: Reinebold directs fans sporting their jerseys, with merchandise available on the night
Individual tickets for game two of next season’s International Series – New York Giants at (newly-relocated) Los Angeles Rams – sold out in less than two hours, while deals with Tottenham Hotspur and Twickenham take the series through to at least 2025.
Despite originally being met with disbelief and ridicule by those back across the pond, the International Series has quickly become a celebrated tradition.
But the relocation of a franchise to London or even a UK Super Bowl, both fiercely debated even by fans across the UK, would take longer to bed in with those who created the game.
“The initial reaction across the country was almost ‘what are they thinking about?’ said Reinebold, who was in the States at the time of the announcement.
“But now, it’s an accepted part of the calendar. If a franchise relocated here, there would obviously be some pushback.
“We are fans, but the NFL is a huge industry. The games are one thing, but the economic impact of a franchise or a championship game is huge.”
Reynolds agrees, having not always been a supporter of a London championship game himself.
“The Super Bowl is the most American of American sporting events and holidays,” he said.
“But Clark Hunt, whose father Lamar coined the term ‘Super Bowl’, said ‘that’s my plan’. He wants to bring a Super Bowl to London, and who am I to argue with him?
“Whether it’s a franchise or a package of eight games, we are going to have a season’s worth of football in the UK soon.”
Eight games may, despite the new stadia on offer in London, see the NFL’s UK mission sow its seeds around the country, carrying on the work of the Inside the Huddle tour and other expanding initiatives.
Chosen as one of the inaugural tour stops, Manchester is clearly featured on the NFL’s International Series wish-list.
With continued vocal support and world-class venues on offer, Mancunians could well benefit from the expansion, as Reynolds explains.
“I think London is a comfort blanket for the NFL,” he says.
“But if you end up with eight games in the UK, I could see maybe five of those in London and the rest around the UK at some point, for sure.”
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Register to win at www.nfl50goldentickets.com.