American Football Is Going Global

Posted by Nathan Arnold
January 31, 2015
The Super Bowl XLIX Is Displayed on the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona

This past summer Americans came together to cheer and discuss the World Cup like never before.  We cheered for goalkeeper Tim Howard as he made a record 16 saves in a game, and a record 26 million viewers tuned in to watch Germany best Argentina in the final.  Soccer is growing on Americans, but also of interest, American football is growing on people around the world.

The Super Bowl this weekend marks the final game of the National Football League season with the Seattle Seahawks playing the New England Patriots in Arizona.  One in three Americans will tune in to the most watched television program of the year, and then spend the next week discussing both the game they watched as well as the often quirky product commercials shown during the breaks.  The game will be broadcast in multiple languages to more than 100 countries.  The world will be watching.

The State Department has noticed the interest as well.  Our Sport for Community program, which pairs emerging leaders with representatives from private and non-profit sports-based organizations for month-long mentorships, recently paired a Brazilian with an American mentor.  Julio Adeodato was paired with Jamie Rocha, senior associate for Glideslope, a team of management advisors focused on the business of global sport.  This sports diplomacy exchange program forged a two-way partnership, allowing Glideslope to learn more about the country and its collective position on American football, while Julio learned better strategies to operate and promote the sport.

While Brazil is known for hosting the World Cup last year, the new stadiums also allowed for American football game to be played as well, including at the Itaipava Arena Pernambuco World Cup arena.  In a country like Brazil where the term futebol almost always means soccer, the Recife Mariners have been playing American football since 2006.  Adeodato is credited with evolving the game into a viable sport for his country and his efforts were recently recognized and supported through the Sport for Community program.

Adeodato credits the team’s approach to audience participation and community initiatives as the reason nearly 3,000 fans fill the stadium seats. Through the Sport for Community program he also learned more about social marketing, which he is using to build the image of the team.  “I went to really important meetings that gave me insight on how to promote the team,” said Adeodato.  And Adeodato strives to make the games fun to watch. In a game against João Pessoa Espectros at the Northeastern Conference Finals, fan interaction included videos on the stadium screens, audience cameras encouraging kissing and dancing, and even a Harley Davidson motorcycle riding onto the field to deliver the trophy. 

The NFL has also noticed this international interest and has taken the game more global.  Three games in 2015 will be played in London’s Wembley Stadium as part of the International Series.  And for those who want to learn the game, given the layers of sometimes complex rules, the NFL has set up a site called Learn the Game.  

On several occasions, I have joined international exchange participants who are in the United States for the first time -- on a program like the IVLP -- and truly want to watch an American football game while here.  These social events help me appreciate how something as simple as knowing the rules of a game bring us together.  As I explain how a “fair catch” works during a punt or why the quarterback can’t be hit if he slides, I see how a mutual understanding of a game translates into a desire to understand each other better outside the game.  So watch the Super Bowl this weekend -- perhaps with someone from another culture or at an Embassy watch party. You will be surprised how it opens conversations.

About the Author: Nathan Arnold serves on the Public Affairs and Strategic Communications team in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

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