Tottenham and NFL confident London link-up will provide mutual benefits

Spurs 10-year deal to host NFL games at their new stadium could mean a London-based NFL franchise sooner than we think and in return, Tottenham want increased exposure in America

You might have heard by now that a magnificent new stadium is slowly taking shape in north London. When its finished in 2018, the 61,000-seat facility will replace White Hart Lane, the hallowed but ancient, aged and cramped home ground of Tottenham Hotspur.

The stadium will pretty much offer every amenity that a state-of-the-art facility possibly can, including a retractable grass pitch for Premier League matches. It is what will lie beneath that pitch that is of interest to NFL fans not just in England, but in the United States.

The artificial-turf surface will be a regulation American football field. There will also be dedicated facilities for the NFL, including a home locker room and a media suite. Besides soccer and concerts, the stadium will play host to two NFL games per year for 10 years.

With a waiting list for season tickets twice the capacity of our current stadium, our need for a bigger stadium has been clear for all to see for some time, Donna-Maria Cullen, the executive director of Tottenham Hotspur, told the Guardian recently. We have now taken this opportunity to create something truly special. It will be more than a world-class football stadium we want this to be the most compelling and unique entertainment and leisure destination anywhere, which can help bring tourism and activity to Tottenham 365 days of the year.

American football is no stranger to north London. In 1995 and 1996, the London Monarchs of the World League of American Football played their home games at White Hart Lane albeit on a field that had to be shortened to 93 yards because there wasnt quite enough room.

The London Monarchs take on the Scottish Claymores at White Hart Lane in 1996. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA
But the new stadium could also accomplish something else far away from Tottenham: deepen the fanbase for the team in the United States. Aided by a title challenge in the Premier League last season and qualification for the Champions League, Tottenhams merchandise sale figures grew by 67% in 12 months in the United States alone, Cullen said. The US is Spurs biggest market outside the United Kingdom, she said, accounting for about one-third of the clubs overseas trade.

And yet Tottenhams footprint in the United States is relatively small, especially when compared to Manchester United, Man City and Liverpool, plus Spurs London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea.

Tottenham played in none of the 15 most-watched Premier League games in US history through last season. (Manchester United played in four of the top five games, with Chelsea in three of the top five.) Only one of the top 15 most-watched Premier League games on cable in US history featured a team not mentioned above: the Manchester United-Leicester City game on 1 May, with Leicester on the brink of a first ever Premier League title.

Tottenham, Cullen said, have more than 40 supporters clubs in North America, more than any other Premier League team and a marked increase from 24 two years ago. Spurs did not play pre-season matches this year in the US, but it always does well at the ticket office when it does.

But the pie is apparently big enough for interest to grow in the Premier League in the United States, just as there is for the NFL to grow in England and Europe. Mark Waller, a Kenya-born Brit (and Spurs fan) who is the NFLs executive vice-president of international, told the Guardian this month that it is possible for a London-based NFL team to be in place within four to five years.

My personal opinion is that your best experience of fandom is when you can root for your own team, Waller said. Our research in the UK has shown that the fan experience at an NFL game is very different to a Premier League game. Theyre looking for very different things when they go to an NFL game. Later, Waller said: I believe theres room for both. I actually think we both serve different needs from a fans perspective.

Besides lasting about an hour and a half longer than a 90-minute Premier League match, an NFL game, Waller said, is more of a full day out, with a significant amount of entertainment wrapped around an athletic experience. The Premier League experience is essentially an athletic experience, with no tailgating or gathering beforehand.

Cullen said: The NFL is well-known for providing a great matchday experience, and we want to ensure NFL fans get the same experience at our stadium. Our seating bowl has also been designed to enable excellent sightlines to be achieved for both [soccer] and NFL without having to screen off rows of seats at the front of the lower tier.

But there are also more opportunities to watch a Premier League game on television in the United States. Because of the time difference between the UK and US, weekend Premier League games start in the morning or lunchtime when theres no clash with NFL or college football.

(Having said that, the window does seem to be closing a little. Three NFL games will be played in England this autumn, starting on Sunday, when Indianapolis hosts Jacksonville at Wembley. Kickoff for all three games is at 9.30am ET on a Sunday in the US. As the Colts get set to face the Jaguars, the Premier League game at White Hart Lane between second-placed Spurs and table-topping Manchester City will be at the 15-minute mark.)

Still, the NBC Sports Group said at the end of the last Premier League season that its Premier League coverage reached more than 36 million viewers, which marked a 26% increase over the season before. A record for average viewership was set for the third straight year, and live minutes streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra spiked 118% over the previous season.

Cullen told the Guardian: Our tie-up with the NFL will see the two most popular sports in the world come together at a time when both Premier League football and the NFL are enjoying huge growth in each others home territory. This can be mutually beneficial to both parties, and primarily give the area of Tottenham significant exposure. The Premier League has already put Tottenham on the map, but the introduction of the NFL can take this to a whole new level.

She said: Our activations with the NFL have already proven popular with fans from both sides of the Atlantic. The NFL is committed to providing projects that support the community, and we have seen some great work undertaken already. We always strive to operate at as many levels as possible when we travel overseas and constantly push to do even more. We dont just want to play football and leave. It is about leaving a lasting impression.

Odell Beckham catches Erik Lamelas pass. Photograph: Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I

In July, prior to both the NFL and Premier League seasons, New York Giants wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr and two members of Washington visited Tottenham to promote the NFL.

Beckham, an international ambassador for the NFL who also visited Germany this summer, took a spot on the Spurs training ground, about 45 yards away from Spurs forward Erik Lamela, who drop-kicked a ball to Beckham so he could catch it one-handed, as he did when he famously caught a touchdown pass from Giants quarterback Eli Manning against Dallas in November 2014.

It took Beckham two tries, but he caught Lamelas kick. The video was watched by NFL and Premier League fans. It was a brilliant idea for cross-promotion. A fan of Beckhams in the United States might have learned something about Tottenham.

And there are more than just Spurs jerseys up for grabs here. Only a portion of those listed as corporate sponsors in the Spurs game-day program are American-based companies. Cullen sees room for plenty of growth in this area, as well.

We have a history of great sponsorship deals with US brands across a range of businesses, she said. Under Armour is one of the United States fastest growing brands, while we also have a close relationship with StubHub. In the past, we have also enjoyed formal relationships with other top US brands like Hewlett-Packard and EA Sports.

We continue to see demand from US businesses and retail licensees who are not only investing in Tottenham Hotspur but also the Premier League. We are always open to expanding our partnership base and continue to have discussions with a host of different companies particularly about linking in with the new stadium. So watch this space.

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