EDITORIAL: Is Europe ready for some football?

Europe, are you ready for some football?

Consider us converted. Long skeptical of the National Football League making googly eyes at untapped markets across the pond, we'll finally throw in the towel. Europeans are ready for some (American) football.

The president of the German Sea Hawkers fan club, on the cusp of the NFL's first-ever regular season game in Deutschland, revealed how the American game is more than a European novelty.

"This elderly gentleman a few rows in front of me was playing fantasy football on his phone," the 31-year-old software engineer told the AP. "That's not something I would have expected."

What makes the observation so unexpected is that Herr Lukas Spiess was at a soccer match in Stuttgart at the time.

In the league's first return to Germany since the developmental NFL Europe league folded in 2007, Mr. Spiess' beloved Seattle Seahawks took on Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Munich inside the country's premier soccer venue. (The NFL's going to get every last mile out of its most valuable prop). And local anticipation for the game was tangible, reports say.

Germany has passed Great Britain as the NFL's top European market: more Game Pass subscriptions, more team swag sold, more Madden. Even back in NFL Europe's final season, five of its six teams were based in Germany, with the old Frankfurt Galaxy and Rhein Fire drawing especially well.

The league has staged 33 regular season games abroad since 2007, with games now held annually at multiple venues throughout the London region, an occasional game in Mexico City, and more planned for Munich and Frankfurt. Logistics notwithstanding, London has long been considered a potential landing spot for the next NFL franchise looking for a new city.

Many were skeptical when international regular season games were added. We remember when European games first started, and kicking- obsessed European fans cheered extra points louder than the touchdowns. But there's no denying that American football has taken root on the continent.

The European Federation of American Football estimates there are 65,000 American football players in Europe spread across 20 countries. The NFL's Europe office estimates around 3.3 million avid American football fans in both England and Germany, the latter home to more than 17 million casual fans.

And with more exposure, casual fans often evolve into the avid variety.

Tickets for Seahawks-Bucs in Munich were gobbled up quickly once they went on sale in July, with the AP reporting demand twice that of the league's annual London games.

And according to NFL Germany general manager Alexander Steinforth, "Ticketmaster told us afterwards that they could have sold around three million tickets."

Once the NFL became more accessible on TV to German fans in 2015, the already popular sport took off. Is it a money grab for Roger Goodell? Of course. But is it also placating demand? The signs point to yes.

"I feel like it's accelerating exponentially," Herr Spiess told the AP. "Through the help of social media too, there's this whole buzz around it. Being an American football fan is cool now."

Tom Brady cool.

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