A subject that has always been fascinating to me is just how exactly how we as British American Football fans decide on a team to support. For those of us on “the other side of the pond” this isn’t always an easy choice to make.
This task is often much simpler for fans in the US, because in many cases fans will gravitate towards the team most local to where they live or where they grew up – similar to how many of us follow teams of “our” football. With only 32 professional teams, each NFL franchise is typically a major part of the cities & states that they represent. These connections just simply don’t exist for us UK fans who live thousands of miles away.
In many ways then the freedom for us Brits to be able to choose from all 32 teams with no geographical link might perhaps even be an enviable position for our US friends. The particularly fascinating part of this though is understanding the different reasons behind why we choose the team that we eventually decide to follow, when we have complete freedom of choice.
Having been to many of the NFL International Series (IS) games in London, what is always incredible to see is the sea of jerseys that you can find both in and around the stadium, and the various events that NFL UK put on every year. Spend just a few hours around Wembley or Tottenham Stadium before kickoff on an NFL London gameday, and you’ll almost certainly be able to successfully complete a game of NFL Jersey Bingo (try and spot a team jersey, hat, t shirt of all 32 teams) – if you look around you absolutely will find someone representing all of the franchises. There’s certainly not an even spread, you won’t struggle to find a fan of the Patriots or Seahawks for example, and it may take a while to spot the seemingly lone Texan; but they’re out there!
So how exactly do we end up choosing our teams? It’s fair to say that there a probably a multitude of explanations why, and I’d like to dig into some of those potential reasons.
Success – Everyone likes to win, right? Look around and it’s certainly no surprise to see the New England Patriots heavily represented at any UK event.
This also rings true for teams who have been historically great over a certain period of time. The Cowboys, 49ers, Dolphins, Raiders & Steelers have all had dominant -sustained periods of success in their past and you won’t struggle to find British fans of these teams.
You’ll also find that the teams who consistently find a way to win also get the biggest amount of media coverage. Of course people will be more likely to gravitate to a team that they see playing well and playing often. It’s not all that different for our variation of football, where you’ll never struggle to find a Manchester United fan wherever you are in the country. And has anyone noticed all those Manchester City shirts that seem to be popping up over the last few year, what’s that all about?
Underdog Story – On the flip side of success comes failure. Whilst this might seem like a good reason to actively avoid certain teams, we Brits tend to love an underdog story.
For those that like to poke fun at the “bandwagon” fans of the most successful teams, comes the fun of following an underdog. Nobody expects your team to win that shiny Lombardi, so when it happens it’ll surely make it all the sweeter?
Special shout out to suffering fans of the Browns & Lions for this one!
And let’s not forget the teams who tend to suffer constant heartbreak as if they don’t know any other way. Four Superbowl appearances each for the Bills & Vikings is an impressive feat, but yet neither team has managed to come away with a single championship yet.
UK Presence – As the Jacksonville Jaguars continue to commit to the UK market, it’s natural that fans will start to lean towards them. Fans new to the sport have a great reason to follow the Jags as you’ll be able to see them live every single year here in the UK. Is it any wonder that the presence of Jags jerseys have grown since they started coming over every year?
Whilst they may not be the most historic or flashiest of franchises, their commitment to the UK in bringing not only regular games, but players over regularly for live events and their regular coverage and involvements in various programmes in the UK throughout the calendar year. You’ll get no closer interaction with any other franchise in the UK than the Jags, and this will draw in fans.
US Connections – Another common reason for following a certain team for us Brits will be that quite simply we’ve visited or holidayed in a particular City or State. Florida is a popular holiday destination, and so it’s easy to see why teams like the Dolphins, Bucs & Jags may be popular to some.
Others may have family connections over in the US, and in those circumstances it’s quite likely that you may choose to follow a team because a family member lives in close proximity of a particular team.
NBA/NHL/MLB Fandom – Something that seems quite common is the connection between someone’s favourite team in one sport carrying across to other sports. If you’re a fan of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, you might feel a natural draw to the Chicago Bears of the NFL.
US local media coverage tends to spread across the multiple teams within other sports, so you’re likely to see and hear coverage relating to other teams of that city, and it may be the reason you start to follow a certain team.
Colour Scheme – This may seem like a far-fetched reason for following a particular team, but it’s definitely a valid reason for some. If you’re going to represent your favourite team with jerseys, clothing, headwear etc you’re going to have to be comfortable with the team’s colours!
There are countless reasons why we Brits choose our favourite team, from family connections, to adopting a team based on a specific favourite player. We all have our different reasons and it’s intriguing to know and understand why.
My own story is even a little complicated. I’ve followed the NFL closely now for just over 10 years and I’ve committed the cardinal sin of switching teams. It’s just not always that easy to find a team you really connect with – and I bet there’s numerous others out there who’ve done the same. I often found myself trying to like a team because of a certain player only to later feel like it just wasn’t the right team for me.
I’m sure there’s many of you out there who can find a team instantly and make that lifelong connection, it won’t go that way for everyone. So if you’re reading this and you feel like you’re not sure yourself, don’t put too much pressure on the issue. Eventually it will come.
For the many who do have a team that you follow I’d love to know who it is, and why? Be honest, have you all stuck to one team, or have some of you changed over time? Do any of you collect jerseys for multiple teams either because you like to follow more than one, or because of specific players that you like?
Reach out and let us know, I’d love to hear all the different reasons.