Gridiron returns to the ‘Home of Football’
The International Series is back!
At the start of this month, Sunday 2 October 2016 marked the 10th consecutive year that Wembley Stadium has opened its doors to a regular season National Football League game since the new stadium was completed in 2007. With the Jacksonville Jaguars holding on for a win in the final minutes against the Indianapolis Colts, and improving their ‘London home’ all-time record to 2-2, fans were treated to another fantastic festival of sport and entertainment as the NFL story came to Britain’s capital once again.
Indeed, the new Wembley Stadium is now almost synonymous with ‘American Football’ in Europe. The first International Series match was one of the inaugural events to be held at the redesigned and rebuilt stadium. It was also the first regular season NFL game ever to be held outside of North America. With the Giants defeating the Dolphins 13-10, a new set of traditions, and a new generation of ‘gridiron’ fans, were born in the land of the round leather ball. Since then, the venue has embraced and welcomed a wide range of sports and events, including concerts featuring some of the world’s biggest music artists, major sports from a range of codes and even world leaders such as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The International Series
Every year, a specialist Populous Events team oversees the International Series at Wembley, ensuring that everything from the television coverage to the cheerleaders runs smoothly. With over 30 years of Super Bowl experience, the team gives Londoners a real show. The team have got to know their canvas well over the last decade, bringing all the requirements of the sport, but setting it into a new home that is unlike any other found in the game. Most important is the understanding that the International Series is not just about the NFL descending upon London with a set design and imprint, but embracing the city, with each team coming into and celebrating their match in their own, very special way. Populous’ challenge and opportunity is to reflect and energise that new, fresh identity for the 85,000 strong crowd, each and every time.
“The International Series has offered a different experience each of the past 10 years. The teams that play bring unique energies and fans to the stadium and our event staff looks to advance the games and the fan experience in leaps and bounds each year. ” Todd Barnes, Principal
The camaraderie and sense of togetherness found at the International Series is both unique and very special. It’s not just the teams on the field that are represented in the crowd; it’s likely that you’ll find supporters from most of the 32 franchise teams amongst the audience, all coming together to celebrate the spectacle and action on the field. In the opening game, Jets mixed with Chiefs, Bills with Jags, and Colts with Dolphins. Many fans are reliving and celebrating their youth, when the only games they would be able to see would be grainy replays on TV, shown on this side of the Atlantic Ocean during the middle of the night. Now Londoners and Europeans have the chance to experience the real thing, every year in October and November.
Redesigning the Home of Football
From the very start of the redesign process for the stadium at the start of the millennium, one of the great challenges for the design team in interpreting the brief for a new national stadium to meet modern standards, was in translating the history, heritage and spirit that had been indelibly etched onto the old ground. The traditions that had been built up over the years, and the atmosphere and drama of the place, were integral to the new venue, and created a football (soccer) stadium that has been called ‘the Cathedral of Football’ by the great Brazilian footballer, Pele. Yet with a new stadium came new experiences, and fantastic new traditions have come to this special place, brought by fans new and old, diehard supporters and those drawn in by the drama and spectacle.
Ten years on from that first match, the Jacksonville Jaguars are becoming well accustomed to their 4,000-mile expeditions across the Atlantic, but it is by no means a one-team show. In fact, 21 NFL franchises have now played at Wembley over the last decade, with the sell-out crowds and annual demand for tickets leading to an increase in the number of games from one to three since 2014.
It is great to see and feel Wembley pulsating with a new generation of fans for the game each year. The NFL has a really deep and growing fan base here in the UK, and we’re proud to be a part of this incredible series of events.
This year, two new teams will grace the field, with the last game on British soil seeing the Washington Redskins host the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 8 of the regular season. Welcome to London everyone. It’s going to be fun.