Interest in NFL continues to grow in UK but no team yet

GREED is not always good.

Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League, has been so buoyed by American Football's regular-season trips across the pond that his calls for further games outside the United States and even a franchise here in London grow louder each year.

Encouraged by near-capacity sell-outs and increasing interest from British and European fans in America's national game, the notion that euros and pounds could be added to mega bucks is proving hard to ignore.

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"Each year the different barometers indicate that our popularity continues to rise," said Goodell ahead of last night's fourth International Series at Wembley between the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers that took a while to live up to the hype and the responsibility. "I think the next step will be multiple games (in Europe). And if that's successful then I think the idea of a franchise here is realistic."

Interest in American football on this side of the Atlantic is indeed growing. Nearly 350,000 fans registered to buy tickets for last night's game, with 83,941 managing to get their hands on them.

Television viewers have almost doubled with three live games shown every Sunday; two on Sky Sports and one that should come with free matchsticks, at 1am on Channel 4.

However, the difficult economic climate has already put-paid to what was a scheduled double-header this season and nothing is certain yet for 2011 after the conclusion of the first experimental contract.

The danger is saturating a market that may not necessarily grow. The current format is working perfectly, with the solitary game a rare and colourful spectacle for new and existing fans.

Two teams per season cannot create a substantiated protest to the massive scheduling disruption that would be heightened by more games or even an English franchise to challenge the 49ers, Broncos, Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys et al on a weekly basis. The eight teams who have cris-crossed the Atlantic have all spoken favourably of the enterprise, with the build-up and the game-day experience matched only by that of a Superbowl.

This year, a tailgate party just off Wembley Way and a fan rally in Trafalgar Square highlighted the growing appeal the NFL is enjoying. And last night's game was a match-up harking back to the days when gridiron was making its first impression on the English market in the 1980s.

Armchair fans watched as the 49ers with Joe Montana at quarterback became the team of the decade with the Broncos not far behind.

Such legendary names were soon on the back of shirts bought by the NFL's new fanbase and along with the likes of the Steelers, Dolphins and Raiders, the 49ers and the Broncos became household names.

While lacking the attacking flair of a Montana or an Elway, these two struggling teams at least produced a slow-burning contest edged 24-16 by the 49ers, the designated 'home' team, who were roared to a comeback victory by the red-flag waving English NFL fans inside Wembley as two costly penalties against the Broncos proved decisive.