How the NFL embraced Twickenham

Paul Southby, senior project director at Wasserman, reflects on the NFL's tenth birthday in the UK and its recent debut at Twickenham.

This year marks a decade of growth in the UK for the International Series and 2016’s anniversary has seen the NFL celebrating not only a decade at Wembley, but it also put on the biggest non-rugby event to take place at Twickenham since it opened - with the New York Giants playing the LA Rams.

It’s been a huge occasion for organisers, suppliers and fans and it’s been a masterclass in changing and adapting internal and external learned behaviours. For the past six years, Wasserman has been part of the NFL’s journey, activating the NFL Fan Rally at Trafalgar Square, NFL on Regent Street and the tailgate party outside Wembley Stadium.

The NFL at Wembley has ten years of experience and planning behind how to get the most from the stadium and surrounding areas. Fans know the best time to arrive, and where the tailgate party will be. Those lessons were taken to the equally iconic Twickenham, where we worked with the NFL to manage a crowd of 74,121, and ensure the experience was as vibrant and true to the NFL as they’ve come to expect at Wembley.

Changing fan behaviour

With Wembley, fans know from past experience that they can get to the Tailgate area and enjoy pre-game entertainment, in the form of the various branded activations. So they will arrive steadily, some hours before the game, with the majority coming up Olympic Way towards the famous arch. 

At Twickenham, the form is a little different: rugby fans who are used to watching games at the stadium arrived early to enjoy some food and drink pre-match, and their journey to the stadium from Twickenham station zig-zags down residential streets.

We worked with the NFL to prep appropriately, making sure everyone knew what to expect, from the station staff to the stadium teams. Core to it all was ensuring that the attractions of the Tailgate were as enticing as they are at Wembley.

On-site activations

At the stadia, the space each tailgate takes up is different too. At Wembley, the nature of the location means we have more space whereas Twickenham stadium is set in a more residential location. To ensure fans had a consistent experience, we made as much of the core activations, such as pre-game stage entertainment and the NFL big rig, which took place directly outside the stadium, as we did of the Wembley Tailgate.

The result was that the NFL engaged with an estimated 50,000 fans at the Twickenham tailgate who spent – in some cases – hours before the game outside with us. At Wembley the tailgate continued to be a great success with 60,000 fans engaging with the area before the games.

For NFL fans, the tailgate and attendant activations are a key part of the American football experience. As the support for NFL continues to grow, we’ll see more games being staged at other stadia besides Wembley over the coming years. Indeed, Twickenham has an agreement to stage two more games in the next two years, while Tottenham Hotspur Football Club’s new ground will stage a game in 2018 too.

This year was important as much for ensuring that the fan experience was consistently engaging at a new venue as it was for the NFL’s tenth birthday in the UK. At Twickenham, we’ve learnt how to change and adapt learned fan behaviours for a different location, while retaining the same excitement and experience that fans know and love from the sport. The International Series has become a permanent fixture in the London sporting diary and we’re sure it will continue to grow into the years ahead.

 

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