The NFL’s annual London Games kick off next weekend at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. While the league has made that city a focus for over a decade, one broadcaster says the NFL is making big inroads in another European market: Germany.
It's all thanks to a handful of German players breaking into the league, games being available on over-the-top streaming provider DAZN, social media outreach from teams like the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers, and fantasy games.
Markus Kuhn, who played four years for the New York Giants, broadcasts Monday Night Football in German with Sebastian Vollmer, who won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, where he played seven years.
"People really take in American football on a whole 'nother level," Khun said. "It’s crazy to see how Germany is all about American football lately."
"Of course, there’s a time difference, so people sometimes have to watch in the middle of the night, but the viewership is really going through the roof, and starting this year, we work with DAZN, who has the rights for Thursday night, Sunday night, and Monday night," he said.
Viewers are able to have access to those games for the following three days on DAZN.
"It's crazy to see how Germany is all about American football lately."
The fact that Germany could follow two of their own in the NFL – Kuhn grew up in Mannheim and Vollmer was born in Kaarst – changed interest dramatically.
“Before, you would never read a score in a local German newspaper,” said Khun. “But now, since there was a connection point to a German athlete that’s playing, you just also start reading - not only for rights holders, but in the general public - like ‘hey, the Giants did this in this game,’ I mean, when I scored a touchdown in the NFL, it was even surprising to me, I was on the cover of a lot of newspapers, and my mom was even surprised. Then Sebastian, obviously winning the Super Bowl, he came a lot more into the foreground, a lot about his accomplishments.”
The league has been discussing opening up foreign markets to NFL teams, using the template used by the Jacksonville Jaguars, who play across the pond every year, Sports Business Journal reported recently.
Kuhn was on the call for Super Bowls 50 and 51, as well as commenting on free TV before he and Vollmer teamed up for MNF, which they broadcast from a DAXN studio in Miami. They also have teamed up on German broadcasts of New England Patriots games, with the team signaling the potential they see there.
“The Patriots see Germany as the big market, and they want to lead that market,” says Kuhn. “They’re doing a lot for Germany - they’re very progressive; so me and Sebastian, for the last three years, we broadcasted all their preseason games for Patriots.com, and they did the same thing for Mexico with a Spanish feed, and I think they even – for the first time – had a Chinese feed. Mexico is about an hour time-difference compared to East Coast time, and Germany is six hours ahead, and they were all even (in viewership) in games, and we had more viewers over there stream on Patriots.com than Mexico had.”
Kuhn and Vollmer also host an NFL podcast, which they brought to the biggest German newspaper, BILD. It quickly became the number-one overall podcast in Germany. “That’s pretty impressive; it shows people are eating up football content."
Fantasy sports company Fan Hub Media – which promises to “make the big game your game” on its website – operates two NFL games in Germany with Prosieben – NFL Fantasy and an NFL Pick ‘Em game.
“The NFL has used fantasy games and casual gaming in the international markets to educate the audience,” said Phillip DeWinter, vice president of the Americas for Fan Hub Media. “I think one of the challenges the NFL has as they expand internationally is, you know, it’s hard to educate the fans on what the NFL is. Soccer, everyone understands; football is a little bit harder, so you need the casual game to educate fans and teach them the rules, teach them and the players, teach them about the teams."
“I think gambling is a very exciting space for the NFL in terms of revenue streams, so I think as they go into international markets, there are many different opportunities,” DeWinter said. “They recently announced a major catapult into Australia, and no surprise, see how it goes internationally and then – if it works and it’s proven - bring it to the US and really commercialize it.”
Kuhn sees the country as worthy of hosting a game someday.
"Whatever is going on in London right now, they could be doing in Germany," he said.