LONDON: The National Football League (NFL) has hosted regular season games in London since 2007, but now the organisation wants to ramp up its presence in the British capital by creating a sustainable fanbase.

American football has grown in popularity in the UK over the years, as witnessed by the tens of thousands who watched the match between the LA Rams and the New York Giants at Twickenham Stadium at the end of last year, and the NFL has already announced that its 2017 season will feature four games in London.

But in a city where soccer and rugby dominate, the challenge for the NFL rests on its ability to use effective marketing and influencers to reach out to other sports fans.

Sarah Swanson, Head of Marketing at NFL UK, explained the NFL’s approach to The Drum.

"We're trying to create content and take it to channels where people are already consuming rather than expecting a new fan to come to our channels," she said. "The crossover with football has allowed us to capitalise on something people already care about. It's been broader than that too with YouTube influencers, rugby players and even cricketers."

She recognised that London is a massive sports market – the city already has 13 professional football teams – but expressed confidence that it is not saturated. "I've never seen anything like the way we sell tickets in this market, it's extraordinary," she said.

As the NFL concentrates on content and influencers to engage new fans in the UK, some industry experts also emphasised the importance of sponsorship and building up loyalty to a London-based team.

Jamie Wynne-Morgan, Managing Director at M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, said it was important to have home grown talent in a team and to work closely with sponsors and broadcast partners, such as Sky Sports.

"You only need to look at the impact O2 has had with rugby over the past 20 odd years to see how working well with a sponsor can pay dividends for a sport and team," he said.

Meanwhile, John Scurfield, Head of UK Sport and Entertainment at MediaCom, pointed to the importance of a sports brand getting involved in the local community.

"Whilst I'm sure the London-based franchise will be many a UK fan's second team, in order to grow a loyal supporter base as their first team they will need to attract the right players and have a positive impact on the community through a community and schools programme," Scurfield said.

Data sourced from The Drum; additional content by Warc staff