NFL marketing ‘authenticity’ of momentous occasion at Twickenham, origins of gridiron

Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants first non-rugby match played at historic venue

by Andrew McSteen

In just two days, on Sunday 23 October, the LA Rams will host the New York Giants in Game 16 of the NFL International Series. Whilst that may not sound so historic in itself, the game will be played at Twickenham Stadium, the first time any sport other than rugby has been played at the venue since it was bought as a cabbage patch for £5,500 back in 1907.

“It’s great and there’s a real authenticity [for American Football to be played as the first non-rugby sport at Twickenham] to it,” said Sarah Swanson, the NFL UK Head of Marketing to A Head For The Game in an exclusive interview at the Soccerex Global Convention.

“It also opens the doors to a totally different audience – it feels like we’ve got buy-in from the RFU (rugby football union) by being there and it’s a wonderful opportunity [for us] not just the location itself but the fan base.”

In past seasons the NFL UK have offered incentives for buying international series games tickets with discounts related to fans buying tickets to all three Wembley games at once, however, this season, two different venues present not only logistical issues, but an opportunity to engage a different kind of fan in a unfamiliar setting.

“If it was up to the people who just did ticket sales then we would just sell it out to season tickets, people who are buying all three games,” said Swanson. “Of course, this is part of my job and very valuable to me, but we would like to bring new fans in and this match gives us such a great sampling opportunity for people who wouldn’t have ever of thought to go to Wembley but would go to Twickenham as it’s a place they’re comfortable with; it’s a place they know.”

Going from the north-west London stronghold of Wembley to the south-west London fortress of Twickenham does still present some small obstacles as the NFL attempts to market the game to new fans in the capital.

“Logistically,” Swanson continued, “switching to Twickenham means that we’ve got a lot of fans who have been used to going to Wembley for 10 years and now they’re going to a stadium for the first time – this presents challenges as well but we will provide all the information possible to help their experience.”

The beginnings of American Football can be linked to the game of rugby union which was played in the USA before Gridiron was formalised and Swanson can reveal that this story will form a large part of the marketing around the historic game as the NFL and RFU come together both inside, and outside, Twickenham.

“From a marketing perspective you’ll definitely see content that’s football and rugby related – the origins of the sport,” said Swanson. “A good example is (England World Cup winning rugby world cup captain) Martin Johnson – he is one of the most passionate and knowledgeable fans about the NFL I have ever known.

“He’s extraordinary. I think you’ll see him quite a bit and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t helping us translate between the two [sports] because it just makes sense.

“You have something (rugby) that’s really authentic and somebody who really cares about both sports who can really help drive that conversation – there will be all sorts of things you can think of happening where we’ll do things with different players [from the sports].”


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