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NFL Giants, Rams lead league into new territory at Twickenham

The NFL finally planted its flag at Twickenham, the historic London venue that usually serves as the headquarters of the England rugby team.

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October 23, 2016 marked the first non-rugby sports event in Twickenham's 107-year history and a capacity crowd snapped up 74,121 tickets to witness the NFL play

October 23, 2016 marked the first non-rugby sports event in Twickenham's 107-year history and a capacity crowd snapped up 74,121 tickets to witness the NFL

(AFP/File)

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Twickenham played host to the NFL's latest landmark moment on Sunday as the New York Giants beat the Los Angeles Rams 17-10 at the cathedral of rugby union.

Fittingly for a sport that has its earliest roots in rugby, the NFL finally planted its flag at Twickenham, the historic London venue that usually serves as the headquarters of the England rugby team.

This was the first non-rugby sports event in Twickenham's 107-year history and a capacity crowd snapped up 74,121 tickets to witness the NFL's next step towards establishing a permanent franchise in London.

At a venue that has produced some of the most dramatic moments in rugby history, the Giants and Rams struggled to showcase the best of the NFL in a scrappy encounter encapsulated by an error-strewn display from Rams quarterback Case Keenum and illuminated by a pair of crucial interceptions by Giants safety Landon Collins.

Yet the crowd, clad in jerseys of all 32 NFL teams, were unperturbed by the low-quality encounter and remained glued to their seats in a show of faith that suggests the league's target of having a Britain-based team by 2022 remains well within reach.

"I expect we'll see more games here (at Twickenham) and, who knows, maybe a franchise someday," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told the BBC in an interview during the match.

After playing the previous 15 "International Series" fixtures at Wembley, Goodell arranged Twickenham's debut to explore the suitability of other host venues with a view to increasing the number of matches played in London each season.

This is the third successive year that three games are being played in London and the Jacksonville Jaguars are playing one "home" match at Wembley each season from 2013 to 2020.

Television networks in Britain report an 80 percent rise in NFL viewing figures from the same period last season, while the league says there are now 14 million British fans of the sport.

Approval ratings

Not content with British dominance, the NFL is playing a fixture in Mexico in November and Goodell is on record as saying he wants to take a regular-season game to China in the near feature, with Germany and Brazil also potential venues.

Ironically, while business is booming overseas, the NFL's approval ratings back home in the United States have dipped, with viewing figures down this season.

The damaging publicity surrounding the NFL's failure to inform players of the potential dangers of concussions and a series of ugly domestic violence incidents featuring star players have turned fans off the sport.

Only this week the Giants were forced to leave their kicker Josh Brown out of the trip to England after fresh evidence emerged of his abuse of his now ex-wife.

None of that bothers the British fans, who left Twickenham fuelled by their latest taste of the NFL and already anticipating the Cincinnati Bengals playing the Washington Redskins in this year's final UK fixture at Wembley next Sunday.

Mark Waller, the NFL's executive vice-president for international, believes the sustained interest shown by the British public proves the foundations have now been laid for a permanent team.

Referencing the Rams' move from St. Louis to a new home in Los Angeles earlier this year, he told reporters: "The minute two or three owners expressed a desire to be in Los Angeles it all happened in a remarkably fast time-frame.

"What I would like to think is we are doing the best job possible to make the market ready."

However, US-based players might not embrace the move quite so readily, according to Giants defensive tackle Damon Harrison.

"That'd be tough," Harrison said. "The road teams would have to go 6-10 hours across the world.

"I think it would be good for football, but I'd have to stay in the States."

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