MUNICH (AP) — Seattle Seahawks fan Lukas Spiess was shocked by what he noticed during a soccer game in Stuttgart a few weeks ago.
“This elderly gentleman a few rows ahead of me was playing fantasy football on his phone,” said Spiess, chairman of the German Sea Hawkers fan club. “It’s not something I expected.”
The NFL has arrived in Germany.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Seahawks at Allianz Arena in Munich on Sunday in the NFL’s first ever regular season game in Germany. Over the next three seasons, Munich will host another and Frankfurt two.
More broadly, Germany has now overtaken Great Britain as the biggest NFL market in Europe.
“Game Pass has more subscribers, consumer products sell more in Germany than in the UK, the Madden video game sells more, TV rights are comparative,” said Brett Gosper, NFL manager for UK and Europe, to The Associated Press in an interview.
The UK and Germany each have 3.3 million NFL ‘avid fans’ in a rapidly growing category for both, but Germany has slightly more ‘casual’ fans – 17 million , said Gosper. London has hosted regular season matches since 2007.
Germany has overtaken Britain in the past 12 months, Gosper told a recent sports marketing conference in Dusseldorf.
With the biggest economy in Europe, Germany was a no-brainer for the NFL and the country has supported American football in the past. NFL Europe ultimately failed, but in its final season in 2007, five of the six teams were German. The Frankfurt Galaxy and the Rhein Fire in particular drew good crowds.
Interest really took off after 2015, when games became readily available to viewers on a major free-to-air channel.
“I feel like it’s accelerating exponentially,” said Spiess, a 31-year-old software engineer. “Through the help of social media, too, there’s all this buzz around it. Being an American football fan is cool now.
Gosper acknowledged the NFL is “probably a bit behind” in Germany and said adding a 17th game to the schedule was key.
“Having that (extra game) allowed us to settle in Germany, but it was probably a market that was ready to see an NFL game here much sooner,” Gosper said at the SPOBIS conference in late September.
Alexander Steinforth, NFL general manager for Germany, admitted it was “super helpful” to have seven-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady headlining the first game of the season. league in Germany.
But he said interest in the league outweighs any star.
“The excitement is so great that you could almost send any team to play in Germany and people would love to watch the game,” Steinforth said.
The online queue when tickets went on sale in July reached 770,000, although it’s unclear if some were bots or if that number were on devices. Either way, demand was more than double that of London games, which usually sell out quickly.
“I was trying out three different devices,” said Spiess, who wrote off but then landed tickets through a friend in Seattle. “A lot of people are desperate to find a few remaining tickets.”
Many German fans come to Munich even without tickets, he said, “to get the most out of the experience”.
The Allianz Arena, home of Bayern Munich football club, can accommodate 75,000 fans.
JAMMING OF FANS
The Bucs are one of four teams that have international marketing rights in Germany. The others are the Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots. This means they can cultivate fans and business deals in the country.
The Bucs will get a boost with accommodation, but the other three are also hosting events in Munich this week, to attract as many “undecided” fans as possible.
“Not only is it a big pool, but the demographics of that pool are very valuable,” Chiefs president Mark Donovan said, citing the 18-34 age bracket. “A lot of this demo has already indicated a desire to get involved in the NFL. They follow the NFL one way or another — players, teams, league — and they’re undecided.
The NFL and Bundesliga recently agreed to collaborate on fan acquisition and broadcast technology. Teams with country rights can work with individual clubs, as the Panthers have done by co-hosting a watch party with Eintracht Frankfurt.
Germans got a taste of football when American troops stationed here staged games in the 1970s. The German Football League was launched in 1979, and the country has a football-style club system that develops young players.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said a preseason game in August 1990 marked a turning point. The Chiefs faced the Los Angeles Rams at the Olympic Stadium in West Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall and just before reunification.
Media reported there were 55,000 fans, many of whom didn’t understand the game but liked the American aspects like tailgating, cheerleading, and Frisbee chasing dogs.
“It really ignited our passion to say that we really believe we can bring more football here to Europe,” Goodell told a fan forum in London last month.
The first version of NFL Europe launched the following spring.
Meanwhile, the European Soccer League recently completed its second season, with seven of its 12 teams in Germany ahead of expansion in 2023. The NFL allowed the new league to use team names from the era of NFL Europe.
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