The NFL and Spain, a “marriage about to happen”

“In Spain, the fans of American football are growing and the NFL has noticed. It is like a marriage that is about to take place.” Iker Sagasti, a journalist and one of the hosts of 100 Yards, comments on and exemplifies this, Cadena Ser’s successful podcast about this sport —the largest in number of followers in the United States—. The audience of his radio program, aged eight Already in the antenna without borders that is the internet, it is a good indicator of how the following of the NFL (acronym for National Football League) has skyrocketed in Spain. Especially since the pandemic: in 2019 they had some 300,000 downloads a year, in 2020 they exceeded one million, and in 2021, last season, they added 2.6 million. Of these, around 70% are Spanish.

The same phenomenon, that of brutal growth, is corroborated by Movistar, the platform that broadcasts the competition and that has its television rights until 2024. The rise in audience last season was “very important”, they point out from Movistar. And they make it concrete: 71% more viewers than the previous year (2020) and 181% more than in 2018. Javi López, one of Movistar’s narrators and specialists in American football, exposes some of its attractions: “Visually it is Almost impossible to improve. And in few sports does it happen that each play can be the play of the game, the most decisive moment of the match.

López and Sagasti agree that the growth of fans of this sport is closely linked to the facilities offered by the online and multimedia tools available today: the appearance of podcasts, video on demand, etc. “Information has been globalized, you can access all kinds of content…”, points out López. They, the promoters of the NFL in Spain, are also one of the secrets of the increase in fans: passionate people, professionals with in-depth knowledge of the game who flee from fanism, and who seek to entertain and be educational. “For us [100 Yardas] Entertaining is at number one of our intentions, and trying to be educational so that people who come to the sport know it”, explains Sagasti.

This boom in Spanish territory —“it is no longer like in the 2000s, which was that of those geeks who like American football”— has not gone unnoticed in the gigantic company that is the NFL. At the end of last year, the league pointed to Spain as one of its priority markets to expand the brand of this spectacular sport that accumulates million-dollar audiences day after day and that has the Super Bowl, the championship final, as the great annual showcase. Last season, 112 million viewers watched the title match in the United States alone. Sagasti provides another piece of information that helps to understand how big the circus is: “They know how to sell it very well, just in that match, for example, seven times more merchandising is sold than in a Champions League final”.

Precisely the Super Bowl, the show that surrounds it and all its pomposity, is usually a hook to attract new followers of this sport around the world. The dynamics of the game is complex, but many stay forever when they jump the barrier that separates them from a tactically rich sport —“the more you understand, the more it hooks you,” says López—, enormously competitive (only 17 days) and starring super elite athletes. “I am very attracted to the fact that the best athletes in the world do not have to have only one type of physique, it is a sport that democratizes a lot,” says Sagasti. In the NFL, small and very fast men coexist with 150-kilogram behemoths. A contrast that is also attractive.

imminent landing

The commitment to Spain in the NFL is serious and its landing in person is imminent. Sagasti, one of the main promoters of American football in Spain, was invited to Chicago this summer by the Bears (name of the team in the city of Illinois) so that he could get to know the franchise. And, of course, that he told through 100 Yards everything he saw there and learned about the league.

All these movements are part of a strategy that will end, in the not too distant horizon, with the dispute of an official match in a Spanish city, a formula to export the product that is already made in London and, from this year, in Munich. . “When American football is going to really explode in Spain is when a game is played here,” says Sagasti. That could happen in three or four years. “If that happens, and, let’s imagine that in 2025 the NFL announces a game in Spain for four years in Madrid, Barcelona or in both cities, then I think the NFL can become fans of the NBA in Spain,” predicts the journalist .

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The NFL and Spain, a “marriage about to happen”