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Bringing the Party Across the Pond

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It's the biggest party day of the year in America. No, it's not Thanksgiving or New Year's Eve. It happens this Sunday, when the New York/New Jersey area will play host to Super Bowl XLVIII.

The NFL has taken over Manhattan in preparation for the big game at MetLife Stadium and more than 160million Americans will tune in to see the grand finale of the season.

But it's not just Americans who are passionate about the sport. We are seeing the NFL fan base increase dramatically in the UK and we expect millions to be tuning in to Channel 4 or Sky Sports and sitting up through the night to experience one of sport's greatest showpieces.

nfluk

Photo Credit: NFL UK, Minnesota Vikings vs. Pittsburgh Steelers at Wembley, September 2013

So, who do you root for if you are a British sports fan new to the NFL? The Denver Broncos versus the Seattle Seahawks offers the classic match-up: the NFL's best offense, led by legendary Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, taking on the Seahawks, the league's best defensive team.

So if big-scoring offense is your thing - perhaps you are a Manchester City fan! - then maybe it's Denver for you. Or if you were brought up on the tight, stingy defence of the old Arsenal regime, then get your Seattle colours ready. Be warned, though - every time the NFL's top offence has come up against the best defence in Super Bowl, it has come unstuck. Hence the well-worn NFL phrase: "Offence wins games; defence wins championships."

Or perhaps it's the personal storylines that attract you. If so, how about Manning, two years after thinking his playing days were over because of serious neck injury, resurrecting his career at a new team and looking to win a second Super Bowl at the age of 37? This after a season in which he set new NFL records for touchdown throws and passing yards.

Then, there is the story of Seattle fullback Derrick Coleman, deaf since the age of three, who defied the odds in a game where communication is so important to reach the pinnacle of his sport. As he said recently about his various setbacks along the way: "They said I'd never make it. But being deaf, I didn't listen."

Wherever you look in this game there are fascinating storylines and intriguing tactical match-ups - not to mention what promises to be another spectacular half-time show with Bruno Mars joined on-stage by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

We'll be hosting the Super Bash at the indigO2, where 1,500 fans will party through the night while they watch the action on the biggest screen we could fit into the venue.

The fact that we could have filled the place out 20 times over, given the number of applications we had, is another indication of the strong place the NFL finds itself in right now in the UK.

Looking back on the 2013 NFL season, I was delighted to see record numbers of British fans enjoying the two regular-season International Series games held at Wembley. Those numbers will be surpassed in 2014, with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announcing today (Friday 31 January) that tickets for the three games to be played in September, October and November in London have already sold out.

In recent years, around four million UK viewers have watched the Super Bowl, which is around double the number of six or seven years ago. During that same time we have seen a similar increase in our weekly viewing audience during the regular season.

It all goes to show that the NFL has come a long way since the first International Series regular-season game in London was staged between the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants on a rainy evening in 2007. But it is not just off the field that progress is being made. Last spring we saw a true Brit, Manchester's Menelik Watson, drafted as high as the second round by the Oakland Raiders, who had also drafted Londoner Jack Crawford in the fifth round a year earlier.

Meanwhile, Olympic discus thrower Lawrence Okoye is currently on the roster of the San Francisco 49ers, who signed him before he had even stepped on an American football field!

lawrence okoye

Photo credit: NFL UK, Lawrence Okoye at Wembley in October 2013

All in all, it means that as soon the Vince Lombardi trophy is lifted by either the Broncos or Seattle on Sunday and the last sleepy British viewer has switched off, we'll be turning our thoughts to 2014 and how we can build on our current momentum to bring the NFL to even more fans in the UK.

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