With interest in the NFL surging and a franchise planned for London, Metric Gaming chief executive Martin de Knijff looks at the implications of the sport’s irresistible rise in the UK.
The record NFL crowd at September’s Wembley fixture between the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars illustrated once more that American football is winning over Europe.
84,592 attended the game in London, just a few more than the Washington Redskins-Cincinnati Bengals match-up at the same venue last season.
UK television audience figures are also positive, with ratings of between 300,000-400,000 viewers typically tuning in for the Wembley-based NFL games when they are shown live on BBC free-to-air television. On a typical Sunday evening the early game on Sky Sports attracts around 60,000 keen sports fans, with the later game 30,000 and a Red Zone average of 25,000 for the entire six hours.
The NFL has grown slowly but surely since it first attracted interest in the UK in the 1980s, but betting operators looking for new growth markets should be satisfied with current levels of interest and incredibly excited about the sport’s future.
Demand is growing
Four NFL matches are to take place at Wembley in 2017, the highest number since the International Series began in 2007. With major franchises such as the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins among those touching down in London this year, interest will not be waning any time soon.
Indeed, the next few years will undoubtedly see a further spike in NFL support in the UK and Europe.
A deal struck with Tottenham Hotspur will see at least two NFL fixtures played at the Premier League club’s as-yet unnamed stadium in each of the next 10 years. The NFL is paying an undisclosed sum of money towards the building programme, and it has been suggested that a London-based franchise could be in situ at Tottenham’s stadium by 2021.
Once a team is based in London we can count NFL as being mainstream in the major European betting market for the first time. Far from being distant, suddenly the sport will have a home in the UK. That will change how the sport is covered, who watches it and the places that it reaches, with all types of new marketing opportunities created.
In short, the NFL will be on the UK betting radar each weekend. More people will know when games are taking place and have an interest in their outcome.
Betting on NFL future
Those betting companies that want a piece of this action must make sure they are ready to satisfy their customers. Why would an NFL fan accept second best when they have so much choice on tennis or football, they want a wide variety of markets and the opportunity to put their expertise to the test.
When they wager on tennis they want to bet on games and individual points – a bet by the minute or second – not just on the set, or even match, outcome. Similarly, when they bet on the Premier League it might be the number of goals in the next five minutes.
Too many betting operators are failing to provide decent coverage of NFL fixtures, and that is a shame for them and their customers. Those that choose to enhance their offering now will be able to establish themselves as an authoritative platform for American football in time for the expansion expected to coincide with the London franchise.
Metric’s Super Live platform, for example, offers operators a service that includes markets such as ‘drive outcome’, where they can bet on punt, touchdown, field goal and pretty much anything else. Bettors can pick run or pass for the next play, and even the distance of the next pass.
Those traditional money lines and points spreads will always have their place. However, this is a new era for NFL, and that means a fresh dawn for betting on the sport.