Many Londoners just don't see the draw in Steelers-Vikings game
By Alan Robinson
Published: Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
LONDON — If one of the busiest streets in one of the world's busiest cities is any sign, it's almost as if NFL stands for Not For London.
Huge banners promoting the Steelers-Minnesota Vikings game Sunday stretch for blocks along fashionable Regent Street, where trendy clothing stores with red neon signs and splashy display windows compete for the seemingly endless number of shoppers.
One storefront depicts a replica of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gearing up for the NFL's latest international game in his No. 7 jersey.
But as hundreds strolled by Thursday, not one person could be seen glancing up at the banners or taking in the Roethlisberger display — one that, curiously, uses a black mannequin to depict Roethlisberger.
“To be honest, I think only small sections (of the population) care anything about the game,” London resident Dave Johnson said. “There's a few who might like American football. But I love (British) football. That's my world.”
It's a tough sports culture for the NFL to infiltrate.
America's most popular sports league continues to mull becoming the first North American league to establish a European base. Two NFL games will be played in London this season — the Jacksonville Jaguars play the San Francisco 49ers next month.
The Jaguars will play here the next three years, too, an experiment to determine how Londoners react to watching the same team every season.
Despite big crowds that the London-based games draw — the Steelers' game is expected to attract about 86,000 to Wembley Stadium — residents warned that the NFL never will be anything but a niche sport here. And perhaps a small niche at that.
They have football, thank you, and they don't really want or need more.
“I don't think it could be a year-around thing,” said Johnson, 26, a builder of luxury boats and furniture. “I don't think they'd be filling stadiums week in and week out.
“The NFL doesn't get the coverage over here. We've got analysis on football (soccer), cricket, rugby — a great deal of coverage — and we don't have that (on the NFL).”
Johnson didn't know there was a game on Sunday until he noticed a sign while picking up a suit on Seville Row.
Another familiar part of American sports culture is missing in London. Many bar owners ban fans who wear sports team jerseys or ballcaps to watch game telecasts.
“A lot of bars won't let you in wearing sports colors because of problems with the soccer hooliganism in the 1970s and '80s,” said Mark Laffan, 36, a self-described New York Jets fan who works for an executive search firm.
“If you're going out in town, nobody wears sports colors. A lot of places will just turn you away. People have gotten out of the habit of wearing them.”
Imagine how long a sports bar in Pittsburgh would last after banning black and gold.
Roethlisberger witnessed plenty of Steelers enthusiasm this summer when making a promotional tour of London. (Yes, he posed alongside Big Ben.)
No doubt he'll see more starting Friday when the Steelers arrive after an all-night charter flight. The Vikings, as the home team, have been in London all week.
“I've heard that during games they are a little soccer crazy — the horns, the thunder sticks, just kind of making noise all the time,” he said. “They know their stuff. (But) I wouldn't say they're as knowledgeable as everyone over here, because they still have a little rugby and soccer on their mind.”
That's why Laffan believes the NFL will have a major selling job to do if it bases a team in London, as Commissioner Roger Goodell apparently hopes to do.
“A lot of people will be coming down (Sunday) for the game, and there will be a lot of people watching the game, and tickets are expensive, and it's sold out,” Laffan said. “But there isn't really a sporting event that gets London buzzing. It's just too big a city.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Western Pennsylvania organizations team to find housing for vets
- Allegheny County Democrats endorse several incumbents in primary
- Parking tickets in Downtown Pittsburgh spark outrage
- Context key to 2nd trial of Pittsburgh police officers in Homewood man’s arrest
- Postal Service pays $180K for unopened site
- Newsmaker: Dr. Yoel Sadovsky
- Photo gallery: Swing for a Cure
- Ailing Downtown August Wilson Center awaits rescue; no real estate offers yet
- House fire in Carnegie, no injuries reported
- Western Psychiatric clinic rampage victim’s parents seek answers, lawyer says
- Trib’s Hiel honored for reporting on Coptic Christians