Christ it’s been a long time since the last post, sorry about that. I’ve been on holiday twice since I last posted and it’s been a pretty mental few weeks but we’re back. So, what’s happened in the meantime? Boris Johnson has been chosen as the new Prime Minister (eugh) and Europe are in the middle of a massive heatwave (less scary way of saying that the world is slowly dying). In the world of sport, England won the cricket world cup on the same day Novak Djokovic beat Roger Federer in an unbelievable game of tennis for the Wimbledon crown. Irish golfer Shane Lowry won his first major, The Open Championship, held at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, many congrats Shane (I mean he’ll never read this but still, well done champ). Dubois vs Gorman lived up to expectation with Daniel Dubois making one hell of a statement with his knockout win, I’d personally love to see him fight Joe Joyce next. Another exciting fight has since been announced where #1 pound for pound king and current WBA super, WBO and Ring lightweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko takes on 2012 gold medal British Olympian Luke Campbell for the previously mentioned titles and the vacant WBC crown at the O2 in London (that is definitely getting its own post soon). And last (but not least), the USA women’s national team won their fourth world cup after beating the Netherlands 2-0 in the final.
And that sort of brings me to today’s topic, American sport. Whilst the USWNT winning the World Cup is an unbelievable achievement, football (or soccer) still isn’t too big of a game in the States with gridiron football (NFL), basketball and baseball being their most popular. And with this popularity has seen a rise in interest in these sports in the UK recently with many Brits supporting teams from those three sports I’ve mentioned (I only really follow the NFL and the Philly Eagles are my team. Go Birds!). Today I’m going to take a look at how popular the NFL, NBA and the MLB are in the UK and what it could mean for the future for the sport.
First off, football. British fans have been following the game for years and it’s popularity is only increasing. Since the London Games have started in 2007 more Brits have been drawn towards the sport and that popularity has shown with the increase of games held in the capital. This year, 4 games will be held in London (2 at Wembley and 2 at Tottenham Hotspur’s new ground) which is a joint record of games played in London tied with 2017. The attendance has been incredible over the years with on average a record 85,000 fans attending each game in 2018 according to statistics from Wembley Stadium. There are a number of British born players currently playing in the NFL including Superbowl 52 winner Jay Ajayi, Jack Crawford, Jermaine Eluemunor and Graham Gano. There are also some former British rugby players at NFL teams including former Worcester Warriors lock Christian Scotland–Williamson who’s now contracted to the Pittsburgh Steelers and former Wasps winger Christian Wade who recently signed with the Buffalo Bills. Whilst either are yet to play, they will most definitely bring more eyes from Britain onto the sport as people will have known them from their rugby careers. The future of the NFL will only be a positive one in the UK. With the popularity of the London games I can see possibly more games being held over here and possibly even in other parts of the country. World class stadiums like Old Trafford in Manchester or even the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff have held huge sporting events and would see huge attendances. The announcement of the NFL London Academy in May 2019 means more British born players will be seen in the league in years to come and that the interest here is huge. There have even been rumours of a London franchise being created, but those are just rumours as of yet, let’s see what happens there (my views on this fairly meh idea will be saved for another post). Gridiron football is already huge in the UK and with the points mentioned it will only get bigger.
Like football, basketball also has a following in the UK. The NBA also have regular season games held in London with the first held back 2011. However, differently to the NFL the London games are not a series per se as games in the regular season are held “globally” rather than England exclusively. However the “global games” in the regular season most recently have only been held in the UK and Mexico. What differs Basketball from American Football is that a British Basketball League exists with 12 teams competing. Whilst the league is not watched as much as the NBA (nor is it anywhere as big) it still shows that there is a market for basketball in the UK and that it’s a sport that’s supported. Some British fans worry for the future of the sport in the UK as the NBA announced they’d only be holding one global game in Europe in the 2020 season and that’ll be held in Paris. Rightly fans are anxious about what the future holds however I personally believe that the NBA can have a bright future in the UK. The opening of an academy would give young British basketball players the chance to develop further at a high level and to follow in the footsteps of past British born stars such as Ben Gordon and Luol Deng and present players such as OG Anunoby who plays for current NBA champions the Toronto Raptors. The NBA is followed strongly in the UK and there is no doubt in my mind it can get even bigger, however it would mean taking the same steps as the NFL in securing big success in the UK.
Lastly, baseball. A sport which has seen little interest in the UK but it looks as if that could all be about to change. A baseball league system does exist in the UK however it’s not too popular with cricket being the main batting sport (Ben Stokes for Prime Minister after his display in the World Cup final, Jofra Archer as his deputy). In June 2019, the first ever London games were held where the Boston Red Sox hosted the New York Yankees at West Ham’s London Stadium with the Yankees winning both. An agreement was signed to host four regular season games across two years with the previously mentioned Red Sox–Yankees fixtures and the St. Louis Cardinals hosting the Chicago Cubs over two days next year. Personally I think this will be incredible for the sport and its growth within the UK. It’ll put more eyes from Brits on the sport and will gain new support and more fans as time goes on. My prediction is that another deal will be signed so that more regular season games will be held in London beyond 2020 and the popularity will grow. Like the NFL, an annual London Series will probably be born attracting bigger crowds as time goes on.
Whilst traditionally American sports may not overtake British favourites such as association football or rugby in popularity it’s still exciting to see how much they are growing in the UK. It seems that it will only increase in terms of fans watching and participation in the sports across the country. These are exciting times for British football and baseball fans and whilst the future for the NBA-UK relationship is unknown at best its popularity and support will ever die down completely. As Yazz once famously said: “The only way is up”.