Smash Mouth Over There

The National Football League has had a rough time getting established in Europe but some new marketing ideas appear to be changing people’s attitudes.

The NFL will play its first regular-season game overseas when the Miami Dolphins (0-7) face the New York Giants (5-2) at Wembley Stadium in front of 90,000 people October 28th. Even if the Fins don’t cover the spread, this marks a significant achievement for American football, which has struggled to get a foothold in Europe since playing preseason exhibition games there starting in 1986.

Unlike in the U.S., European fans haven’t played American football and have little relationship to it – much like how most Americans haven’t played soccer since Little League, and it’s clear how well the States have embraced soccer (e.g., "The Simpsons" soccer episode: "Fast kicking! Low scoring! And ties? You bet!").

Enter Mark Waller, a 48-year-old Kenyan-born Brit who loves soccer, rugby and cricket and who could be the NFL’s secret weapon, according to the Wall Street Journal. Waller has been hired as senior VP for the NFL’s international operations and also oversees the league’s sales and marketing division.

Waller has reportedly tweaked the NFL’s overseas broadcasts to include basic information for the novice fan. The NFL is also adding language-specific Web sites, according to the WSJ, and Waller hopes video games will also introduce the sport to the punters.

The NFL has also introduced a 26-foot-high animatronic version of Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor, which was expected to promote the game by walking around Trafalgar Square and other locations throughout London. Meanwhile, Oxford’s Foot Locker store was plastered with NFL posters, although only a few NFL-labeled Reebok sneakers were for sale, the WSJ said.

The NFL has spent decades introducing the gridiron to Europe, but the European league didn’t take off, other than in Germany – possibly because casual fans knew it wasn’t the best the game had to offer. Then there’s Rickell Samon, a 20-year-old fan of the Chelsea soccer team.

"I’m not going to spend £50 ($102) to see a cheap imitation of rugby," Samon told the WSJ.