Praise be to the football gods: The NFL's international ambitions could make Sunday football better than ever before.
The NFL is continuing its aggressive international push with a new deal to play games at London’s Twickenham Stadium, CBS reports. The announcement comes after the league recently extended an agreement to play future games at Wembley through 2020 and begin playing at Tottenham’s yet-to-be-built stadium in 2018.
At first glance, this feels like a bit of a novelty: American football teams regularly playing in the UK! How quaint! For the average NFL fan, this is of little concern. Most of us watch the NFL from the cushy confines of our coach, where it’s much cheaper and much safer than any NFL stadium. Increasingly, football fans are forsaking seats for the comfort of their own homes. One fewer home game for a handful of teams just isn't that significant to the average fan.
But what is significant is that those London games will be on TV — and since the UK is several time zones ahead of the U.S., that means even more football than ever before. Consider that, up until now, the 9:30 AM ET kickoff has emerged as the leagues’ preferred time slot, and all three London games this season started at 9:30. That means, when the season is in full swing, 14 straight hours of football each Sunday.
It's not easy to see why this makes business sense for the NFL. The unusual 9:30 kickoff creates a fourth game slot for American viewing audiences, in addition to the 1 PM, 4 PM and 8 PM games. That means a more obsessed, loyal fan base and more money flowing from advertiser to broadcaster and back to the league. It certainly helps that fans like it too, as a 9:30 game means, again, 14 hours of football each Sunday with the only interruptions coming for commercials, half-time shows, time outs, injury stoppages, replays, post-game shows, and whatever your spouse is nagging you to do.
With the NFL’s addition of another London venue this week, we asked Mark Waller, the NFL’s executive vice president of international, if fans could count on a consistent 9:30 kickoff and plan for their Sundays to flow from morning to night with nothing but football.
His answer was a bit disappointing: “I wouldn't necessarily have that expectation."
Still, Waller had a lot of praise for the 9:30 time slot that the NFL has stuck with this season, which translates into either a 1:30 or 2:30 start in London depending on Daylight Savings Time. “From a UK perspective, the middle of the afternoon on a Sunday is the perfect time to watch sports,” he said. Frankly, it sounded more like the executive was simply hedging rather than outright rejecting the idea of a Sunday football extravaganza.
Waller also pointed out that the 9:30 AM kickoff is good for other global markets the NFL has yet to tap. “It creates a live viewing window in China," Waller says. "You’re going on at 8 or 10 PM in the evening, as opposed to two, three or four in the morning.”
It’s not just time slots that the NFL will experiment with either. In late October, the Bills and Jaguars played a game in London that was broadcast exclusively by Yahoo. “Young fans want to have a digital experience so that Yahoo game was great first step for us. I’m sure we’ll be looking to do more of those,” Waller says.
For now, the NFL with continue toying with London games, changing up international time slots and experiment with broadcast options. Ultimately, the NFL wants to try to find the right balance between building the league’s brand globally and satisfying the voracious football fans at home, all while keeping their sight on the most important thing to the league: making money. But if that money-making impulse means 14 straight hours of football on Sunday, then count us in.
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