American sports are serious about expanding their fan base, especially in England.
The playing of NFL games and basketball preseason matches in London is proof of that.
Last week the NBA announced the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz would be the teams headlining this year’s roster of preseason games at the O2 Arena.
The stadium, which resonates more with Arsenal fans than Americans, will host a match between the two sides plus an additional one (most likely featuring either squad against a British team).
The match serves as a homecoming game for the Bull’s Luol Deng who grew up in London after his family fled Sudan.
A couple of issues have cropped up around this news. The two biggest ones are the role of the economy in hosting the games and the idea of playing regular season games in England before the 2012 London Olympics.
In years past there were at least four games played on the NBA’s Europe tour.
The fact that only two are being played next year and only in London (instead of Berlin, Barcelona and other locales) points to the current economy having a bigger role than most think.
Then again it seems likely a proper NBA game would be played in London. A couple of games would be tough to put on financially but surely one match could happen and the league schedule adjusted for teams to get a chance to recover from the flight.
The bigger picture though seems to be how American sports will thrive in Europe.
It’s no secret that in a lot of countries (especially England) everything pales in comparison to football.
In fact English football is followed with the kind of passion where people are depressed for weeks after a bad loss or threaten to cause a riot after a big win.
The rivalries between Manchester United and Liverpool or Tottenham and Arsenal are arguably deeper and harsher than any in American sports.
Thus the arrival of the NHL, NBA and NFL to those shores seems set to be an afterthought.
All three leagues recently confirmed their continued outreach to Europe.
The NHL is expected to open next season on the continent for the third straight year. The Detroit Red Wings face the St. Louis Blues in Stockholm on October 2-3 while the Chicago Blackhawks play the Florida Panthers in Helsinki on the same dates.
The NFL is playing a regular-season game for the third straight year. The New England Patriots play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on October 25 at Wembley Stadium in London.
History has shown the marketing of US sports in England (as well as Europe in general) to be brilliant as many Brits fancy puck battles, thunderous dunks and bone-crunching hits from time to time.
The biggest example of which was last year’s regular season NFL game in London between the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints.
The large crowd and amount of cheering witnessed show the Brits certainly appreciate meaningful pigskin action.
Then again those leagues have become more international rather than just American. Some of the best players in the NHL are Swedish and the NBA has talented Spaniards.
No matter what fan base those sports get it’s doubtful football will get anything but top billing in Europe. The history and media exposure of the sport is too engrained for the US sports to inspire a similar level of passion.
Ultimately, Cayman is one of many countries that know England is big on sports. With US sports having a fan base here, there and elsewhere, it only makes sense for the American leagues to expand.