A NFL American Football on the grass outside of Battersea Power station for the NFL Experience London

NFL Experience London: Battersea takeover a hit with fans

NFL Experience London took over the Thames-front exterior of Battersea Power Station this weekend to celebrate the 16th edition of the NFL International Series London Games.

Fans of all 32 NFL franchises flocked to the iconic venue to represent their teams and take part in all that NFL Experience London had to offer.

Attendees were given the chance to test their athletic abilities in drills taken directly from the NFL Scouting Combine, such as the vertical jump and broad jump.

In-game skills could also be refined through participation in a field-goal kicking contest, a quarterback accuracy challenge or an exercise designed to replicate the pressures of making tough catches as a wide receiver.

Meanwhile, American football players of the future were given the opportunity to learn the basics of flag football, a non-contact version of the sport being implemented in secondary schools across the UK thanks to a strategic partnership between the NFL and British American Football Association.

There was even plenty to do for the less sportingly inclined, with widescreen setup giving gamers the chance to test out the latest installment of the Madden NFL video game series.

To top it all off, every franchise was included in impressive display of giant replica helmets on walkway set up in the middle of the Thames itself on Battersea Power station pier.

A row of Giant replica NFL helmets at NFL Experience London
Each team was represented in a walkway of giant replica helmets along Battersea Power Station Pier

Yet more than the chance to connect with other UK NFL fanatics or obtain merchandise to support one’s team of choice, NFL Experience London represented just how far the sport has come in the UK since the inaugural London Games all the way back in 2007.

Simultaneously, it was emblematic of the ongoing commitment that the NFL has made to London and the deepening of trans-Atlantic sporting cultural exchange that will inevitably result.

In their time as the faces of NFL coverage in the UK, The NFL Show hosts and ex-NFL players Jason Bell and Osi Umenyiora have witnessed a remarkable evolution in attitudes to the sport this side of the pond.

Umenyiora said: “It’s been really incredible.

“The knowledge of the game, the intelligence and the way the fans are now, you look around and they know exactly what’s going on, it’s not just a bunch of people in jerseys running around.”

Bell added: “Each year it grows and it’s so fun to watch because I have so much respect for the people, the fans, anybody that gives us any time.

“There’s a lot of sports to compete with, so for them to give the NFL just a moment, a second, is something that me and Osi think about all the time.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell signs autographs at NFL Experience London
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell delivered a speech on the growth of the NFL in the UK

Yet in spite of some initial reluctance from UK fans to embrace such a quintessentially American sport, in part due to the deep allegiance this country already has to association football, UK General Manager Henry Hodgson insists that the there is more than enough room for both to thrive in the UK.

This comes as the NFL has extended its partnership with Tottenham Hotspur to continue hosting at least two regular season games in the stadium until 2030.

He said: “I would never say that we’re competitors.

“I don’t think there’s anything exclusive about fandom. You can be a fan equally of both sports so you can make determinations of what you want to watch when.

“I think the partnership with Tottenham is exactly what it can be with other Premier League clubs and the Premier League itself.

“There’s a lot we can learn from each other and really help each other grow in different markets.”

Even further down the line, NFL Executive Vice President Peter O’Reilly hinted to the Associated Press that greater international expansion is in the works, perhaps including a permanent European franchise.

On the prospect of a London-based NFL franchise, former Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson said: “Seeing how much fun and how vibrant this city is, I would love for it be out here.

“All of this that’s going on, it allows the game to expand, to expand the fan-base.”

For all of these long-term commitments, including the NFL Academy in Loughborough and the recently implemented International Player Pathway Program to put non-US born players on NFL practice squads, more work still needs to be done to make the game truly inclusive in the UK.

The NFL International Series London games continue with Jacksonville vs Buffalo this weekend

For the UK’s first ever female NFL coach and Sky Sports NFL analyst Phoebe Schecter, flag football will be key to achieving this.

She said: “It’s about showing people that there are people who look like them in these roles.

“Sometimes people don’t know what they don’t know, so if they’ve not even seen a girl or young man playing, they didn’t know that they could play themselves.

“Flag football is for everyone. It highlights that ‘if you see it, you can be it’ mentality.”

Feature image courtesy of NFL UK

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