Souhan: Diehard London sports fan thinks there's room for NFL overseas

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 28, 2013 - 12:36 AM

One pub patron’s view: “This is quite a big city.”

– James Phillips held a Hoegaarden in his right hand as he leaned over the bar at The Harcourt Arms and chatted with the barkeep.

Amiable, worldly and knowledgeable about sports, he quickly became the ideal conversational partner for an American in London wondering whether the National Football League has any chance of becoming popular in Great Britain.

Phillips, 55, visited New Orleans five times, the last on the eve of the Super Bowl in February. He’s a soccer fan — Tottenham Hotspur is his team — and follows cricket and rugby, among other sports.

He didn’t know that the Vikings were scheduled to play the Steelers on Sunday at Wembley Stadium, but he did not dismiss the league’s chances in the UK.

“There are people here who aren’t so keen on what you call soccer, and I have found that they are the ones that are interested in American football,’’ he said. “We do get the Super Bowl on the telly here, and there are people who would not otherwise be interested in football who will watch.

“There’s no doubt that a proper competitive game is a draw. This game at Wembley is not a friendly, right? People do not want to see friendlies.’’

A friendly is an exhibition soccer match, much like an NFL preseason game.

“Even some English soccer games that are friendlies attract an under-capacity crowd,’’ Phillips said. “They’re only taken 50-60 percent seriously. That’s not what people want here. Any kind of competitive sport, people are interested in.’’

Visits to a few pubs around London find the televisions filled with soccer and rugby. The Americas Cup led newscasts and dominated the back pages of the tabloids. The NFL may be receiving coverage in the UK. but if it is, it’s not easy to find.

The NFL has announced that it has sold out the 84,000 seats at Wembley.

“I still say it’s a good move, to bring this game here,’’ Phillips said. “You could say that 84,000 tickets is an extremely small proportion of the population. When the USA held the World Cup in ’94, the stadiums were full, but if you interviewed people in general they might say, ‘Oh, is that really happening here?’ The States are full of people who like soccer. For them, it was a big deal. For the indigenous American population, it was not.’’

Americans who don’t like soccer deride players who “flop,’’ falling down to gain an advantage. Soccer, they say, doesn’t correspond with America’s hands-on, frontal ethos.

“Well, we’ve got rugby, which is like football without pads,’’ Phillips said. “The big stuff, the big occasions, everybody likes. The Olympics brought out everybody last year. People like the cricket — it’s an empire game. We like sports that are a bit of a spectacle, and American football is quite a spectacle.’’

Phillips was asked whether an NFL franchise could succeed in London.

“Oh, I don’t see why not,’’ he said, waving a fresh Hoegaarden. “This is quite a big city. We’ve got room for an awful lot.’’

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

  • related content

  • Like Vikings, Steelers are desperate for victory

    Saturday September 28, 2013

    After two losses, holdovers from the 2008 Super Bowl team insisted younger players get more serious.

  • Snapshot look at the Vikings for Sunday's game

    Saturday September 28, 2013

    With two starters injured and ruled out, Harrison Smith will be the undisputed strong link in the Vikings secondary.

  • Minnesota Vikings defensive back Chris Cook photo bombed teammates as...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Boston - LP: R. De La Rosa 0 FINAL
Toronto - WP: M. Stroman 8
San Francisco - LP: T. Hudson 1 FINAL
Philadelphia - WP: C. Hamels 2
Texas - LP: C. Lewis 2 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: B. McCarthy 4
Houston - LP: S. Feldman 1 FINAL
Oakland - WP: J. Samardzija 13
Miami 2 Bottom 5th Inning
Atlanta 2
San Diego 2 Bottom 1st Inning
Chicago Cubs 0
NY Mets 0 Bottom 1st Inning
Milwaukee 0
Chicago WSox 0 Top 2nd Inning
Minnesota 0
Cleveland 0 Bottom 1st Inning
Kansas City 0
Detroit - M. Scherzer 9:05 PM
LA Angels - G. Richards
Baltimore - W. Chen 9:10 PM
Seattle - H. Iwakuma
Montreal 9:00 PM
Real Salt Lake
Calgary 8:00 PM
Edmonton
Winnipeg 7/25/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Ottawa 7/26/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Toronto 7/26/14 9:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Winnipeg 7/31/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Toronto 8/1/14 6:00 PM
Montreal
Brt Columbia 8/1/14 9:00 PM
Calgary
Saskatchewan 8/2/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
New York 9:00 PM
Seattle
Phoenix 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pm
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pm
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pm
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pm
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis Noon
Sep 14 - vs. New England Noon
Sep 21 - at New Orleans Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Which local pro team are you most excited about?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close