Why the San Francisco 49ers stake in Leeds United is just another step for NFL in the UK

National Football League giants the San Francisco 49ers have just bought a minority stake in Leeds United, highlighting the growing influence and popularity of American football in the UK.

Thursday, 24th May 2018, 1:57 pm
Updated Thursday, 24th May 2018, 2:01 pm
NFL UK fans make their way to Wembley Stadium.

49ers Enterprises, a branch of the renowned American football franchise, has acquired a shareholding of more than 10 per cent and appointed its president Paraag Marathe to United’s board, after agreeing an equity deal with Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani.

This new stake has an estimated cost of £10m and shows that the 49ers have followed the trend of NFL owners edging into professional soccer.

With the purchase of shares in Leeds via their investment arm, 49ers Enterprises, catching attention on both sides of the Atlantic, the popularity and growth of the NFL in the UK is ever-increasing, with games taking place this autumn at Wembley and Tottenham Hotspur alongside a growing TV audience.

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NFL UK fans make their way to Wembley Stadium.

The NFL London Games

The NFL London Games will come to the UK this autumn for the eleventh year in a row and, featuring a series of firsts, includes a debut at a new stadium and three teams playing a regular-season game in London for the first time, including Super Bowl LII Champions the Philadelphia Eagles, facing the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley.

Although the games are not for another five months, tickets for both Wembley games, which will take place on October 21 and 28, are now sold out. Only limited hospitality tickets now remain on sale for the Titans/Chargers game on October 21.

However, tickets for the Seattle Seahawks v Oakland Raiders game, which will take place at Tottenham Hotspur's new stadium on October 14, have not yet released tickets.

The stadium currently being under construction means there is not a full, finalised seating plan for the NFL games and as US broadcasters of NFL games need considerably more camera positions than for a soccer game (minimum of 27) and the opportunity to survey the stadium, tickets cannot go on sale until the seating plan has been finalised.

Hospitality tickets are expected to go on sale in June, with all other tickets likely to follow in early August.

The BBC brought the NFL to free-to-air British TV in 2016, occupying the post-Match of the Day slot on a Saturday, with Mark Chapman hosting a weekly digest package.

Although this show aimed to educate a wider audience on the nuances of American football, it avoided digging too deeply into tactical situations, which commentators stateside are commonly prone to.

Sky has also broadcasted NFL games in the past and the NFL itself sells its feeds, additional shows and data direct to consumers through its Game Pass service, which is available world wide.

Through the mainstream media channels, the NFL claims to have secured around 24 million unique UK broadcast viewers last season through the use of mainstream media channels.

Last year, two games were staged at Wembley and two at Twickenham Stadium, with around 300,000 fans attending these four games in London.

This year’s Super Bowl, which aired in the UK on February 4, averaged at around 103.4 million viewers, showing the large popularity of not only the Super Bowl itself but the NFL in general.

The growing popularity of the NFL in the UK has also shown an increase in the popularity of NFL merchandise.

With sites such as NFL Shop UK selling a wide range of merchandise for men, women and children, alongside NFL caps, snapback caps, hats, American football beanies & headwear, those interested in American football can access a wide range of clothing, accessories and other merchandise.

USA Sports, the premier online store for officially licensed NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA Apparel and Headwear also specialises in NFL merchandise, alongside other vendors popping up throughout the UK selling NFL products, showing the increasing requirement for NFL merchandise throughout the UK.

The 49ers stake in Leeds United shows the increasing connection between the NFL and the UK, and the growing interest and popularity of American football throughout the nation.