The NFL is the most popular sport in America, and of all the American sports, it is by far the most popular in the U.K. Every sportsbook in the U.K. posts NFL odds each week, and it has become one of the most wagered upon international sports, according to BetUS. Almost every U.K. American football fan identifies with a favorite team.
But how, since there are no geographical ties to any of the 32 NFL franchises, do U.K. fans pick their teams?
Good Teams are More Fun
It’s not so much a phenomena of picking a front-runner and choosing that team to root for, as much as it is that the front-running teams are the ones that appear on television in the U.K., and thus they become familiar to the fans. Quite often you can tell when a U.K. fan began following the NFL based on which team is their favorite.
Highlights of NFL games became a regular thing on British television in the early and mid-1980s, and two of the best teams at the time were the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants. Since New York and Florida are also two of the most visited places for British tourists, the fit was natural, and fandom was born.
What fan didn’t love watching quarterback Dan Marino break records, and do it in the sunshine of South Florida? And who didn’t love watching Lawrence Taylor and the Giants play in the Super Bowl, which has been broadcast live in the U.K. since 1983?
It’s not a coincidence that the very first NFL regular season game to be played in the U.K. in 2007 featured the Miami Dolphins vs. the New York Giants.
The Chicago Bears also have a large fanbase in the U.K. because of success in the 1980s, and specifically the Super Bowl XX winning team that featured Walter Payton, William Perry, and Jim McMahon.
A 300-pounder running for touchdowns and a quarterback who was always wearing sunglasses felt like they were straight out of American athlete central casting.
Rise of the International Series
More recent surges in U.K. fandom can be traced to the increase in regular season games that the NFL has played in London. More and more British sports fans are being exposed to the NFL, and more are coming to discover their love of the sport, and the love of a particular team.
The timing has naturally led to a spike in fans of the New England Patriots. The year the NFL began regular season play in the U.K., Tom Brady threw 50 touchdown passes and came within a game of completing a perfect season.
The Patriots played at Wembley Stadium in 2009, and crushed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-7. Brady threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns. In 2012 the Pats and Rams met at Wembley, and Brady threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns in the 45-7 win.
Those two wins, plus six Super Bowl wins, converted a lot of British NFL fans into Patriots fans.
Possible London Expansion
The Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t good. They’ve made just two playoff appearances since the International Series began. They’ve also lacked the big stars that can attract fans from across the Atlantic. But no team has flirted with the idea of moving permanently to London more than the Jaguars.
Team owner Shahid Khan is based in London and also owns Fulham F.C. In 2018 he actually made an offer to buy Wembley Stadium (later withdrawn). The Jaguars have played every year in London since 2013, often seeing high betting traffic on BetUS, and that deal is expected to extend to 2025.
Naturally, that has resulted in a very strong Jaguars fan base in their home away from home.