MUNICH (AP) — Seattle Seahawks fan Lucas Spies was shocked by what he saw at a Stuttgart football game a few weeks ago.
“This old gentleman a few rows in front of me was playing fantasy football on his phone,” said Spiess, president of the German Sea Hawkers fan club. “It’s not what I expected.”
The NFL has come to Germany.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play the Seahawks in the first game of the NFL season in Germany on Sunday at the Allianz Arena in Munich. Over the next three seasons, Munich will host one more and Frankfurt two.
By extension, Germany has now overtaken Britain as the NFL’s biggest market in Europe.
“Game Pass has more subscribers, more consumer products are sold in Germany than in the UK, the Madden video game is sold more, TV rights are comparable,” Brett Gosper, the NFL’s head of UK and Europe, told The Associated Press in an interview.
The U.K. and Germany each have 3.3 million “die-hard” NFL fans in a category that is growing rapidly for both, but Germany has slightly more “casual” fans at 17 million, Gosper said. London has hosted the season since 2007.
Germany has overtaken Britain in the past 12 months, Gosper told a sports marketing conference in Düsseldorf.
With the largest economy in Europe, Germany has been neglected for the NFL and the country has supported American football in the past. NFL Europe ultimately failed, but in its final season in 2007, five of the six teams were German. Frankfurt Galaxy and Rain Fire in particular drew good crowds.
Interests really increased after 2015, when the games became available to viewers on the popular free-to-air channel.
“I feel like it’s accelerating exponentially,” said Spiess, a 31-year-old software engineer. “With the help of social media, there’s also all the buzz around it. It’s great to be an American football fan right now.”
Gosper acknowledged that the NFL is coming to Germany “maybe a little late” and that adding a 17th game to the schedule was important.
“Having this (extra game) allowed us to move into Germany, but it was probably a market that was ready to see an NFL game here much earlier,” Gosper said at the SPOBIS conference in late September.
Alexander Steinfort, the NFL’s general manager in Germany, acknowledged that seven-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady is a “helpful roster” in the league’s first game in Germany.
But he said the interest in the league is greater than any star.
“The excitement is so great that you can almost play any team in Germany and people want to be at the game,” Steinforth said.
The online queue when tickets went on sale in July was 770,000 people, although it’s unclear if some were bots or if that number were people on devices. In any case, demand was double that of the London games, which usually sell out quickly.
“I tried on three different devices,” said Spiess, who quit but later sold the tickets through a friend in Seattle. “A lot of people are still hoping to find a few tickets left.”
Many German fans even come to Munich without tickets, he said, “to get as much experience as possible.”
The Allianz Arena, home of Bayern Munich, can hold 75,000 fans.
The Bucs are one of four teams with international marketing rights in Germany. The others are the Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots. This means they can cultivate fans and business deals in the country.
The Bucs will get a boost from hosting, but three others are also hosting events in Munich this week to gather as many “unplanned” fans as possible.
“It’s not only a large pool, but the demographic of that pool is very valuable,” said Chiefs president Mark Donovan, referring to the 18 to 34 age range. are following in some shape or form — the players, the teams, the league — and they’re undecided.”
The NFL and Bundesliga recently agreed to collaborate on fan acquisition and broadcast technology. Teams with rights in countries can work with individual clubs, as the Panthers held a viewing party in conjunction with Eintracht Frankfurt.
Germans enjoyed soccer when American troops played games here in the 1970s. The German Football League started in 1979 and the country has a soccer-style club system that nurtures young players.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the preseason game in August 1990 was a turning point. The Chiefs played in West Berlin’s Olympic Stadium after the fall of the Berlin Wall and just before merging with the Los Angeles Rams.
According to media reports, there were 55,000 fans, many of whom did not understand the game but loved the American aspects, such as tailgating, cheerleaders and Frisbee-chasing dogs.
“It’s really our passion to say we really believe we can bring more football to Europe,” Goodell said at a fan forum in London last month.
The first version of NFL Europe launched next spring.
Meanwhile, the European Football League recently completed its second season, with seven of its 12 teams in Germany ahead of its expansion in 2023. The NFL allowed the new league to use team names from the days of NFL Europe.
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