Business ideas for 2019: American sports

With appetite for American sports growing in the UK, next year NFL, NBA, and MLB games will be played in London, an American sports business could hit a home run

On November 23 1910, the first organised game of American Football in the UK was played between US Navy servicemen from the USS Idaho and the USS Vermont at Crystal Palace.

The game was organised to entertain the men who were forced to spend Thanksgiving away from home. A newspaper report from the time claimed that the sport “did not appeal to the Britishers, and was unlikely to ever do so”.

How wrong that prediction was…

More than 100 years later, US sports are seeing a surge in popularity in the UK, and not just through television screens. Four competitive NFL (National Football League) games will be played in the UK in 2019, with major US teams crossing the pond to take part.

 

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October 2018 saw a record-breaking sell-out game at London’s Wembley Stadium between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Jacksonville Jaguars – two of the NFL’s biggest teams.

And that’s not all. The NBA (basketball) and MLB (baseball) will also be coming to a stadium near you next year.

The Washington Wizards and the New York Knicks will play at the O2 in January 2019, while on June 29 and 30, the London Stadium will play host to one of the sporting world’s greatest rivalries as the New York Yankees take on the Boston Red Sox.

Could an American sports business knock it out of the park in 2019?


Why American sports are a good business idea

Appetite for home runs, touchdowns and slam dunks is clearly growing – at least in the capital.

The first NFL game in London actually took place in 2007, but popularity is growing exponentially. According to StubHub, demand for tickets in 2018 was up an incredible 333% in five years, and 40% on last season.

According to Forbes, the NFL estimates there are 13 million American football fans in the UK, including four million who would qualify as “avid”. And in 2014, Deloitte found that the 2013 NFL games in London contributed more than £32m to the capital’s economy and a regular franchise could generate £102m…

The prospect of having a permanent London-based NFL franchise has been kicked around for a while. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has picked up the mantle, and has even expressed hopes for hosting a Super Bowl. This dream currently hangs on whether The NFL can galvanise a big enough fan base to make it worthwhile.

There was also an increase of 17% in searches for ‘NFL’ and 18% in searches for ‘American football’ in 2018 compared to 2017, according to Google Trends.

Khan has also expressed a desire to have Major League Baseball in London regularly, and suggested that the capital was the ideal place to help “MLB gain a foothold in Europe”.

Meanwhile, one of baseball’s biggest stars – Alex Rodriguez, AKA “A-Rod” – has been in London recently to promote the upcoming games. He thinks scarcity will be a major asset, as only a number of games will be played a year. “London is open for business and baseball,” he asserted in a BBC radio interview.

It’s easy to see how the irregularity of these fixtures could contribute to flurries of economic activity around each event, and create opportunities for entrepreneurs to ride that wave. But also how the increasing prevalence of American sports is driving awareness and interest in American sports among consumers.

So, what opportunities are out there? Read on to find out…


American sports business opportunities

There’s always been a lot of money in sports. That very particular fervour it generates means there are lots of eager fans, all of whom are hungry to get in on the action.

And 2019 should present plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs to play along.

Perhaps the most obvious way is to merchandise. There are already a number of UK-based operations selling American sports apparel and gear online. Some examples are USAsports.co.uk and UK American Sports Store, which both sell merchandise from the NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA.

Or, why not start your own American football team in the UK? There is already a British American Football Association (BAFA), which represents an astounding 200 teams and organises both contact and non-contact versions of the game.

There’s also a British Baseball Federation (founded 120 years ago!) and a British Basketball League.

Alternatively, how about sports coaching business ideas? With the growing interest in American sports but relative unfamiliarity on these shores, you could set yourself up as an American sports coach – provided you have the necessary skills. You can find out more information about training and qualifications on the BAFA website, which features a list of accredited deliverers and other useful resources.

No doubt, there may well be plenty of sponsorship opportunities with new teams on offer for existing businesses, or you could set up an agency that facilitates sponsorship of teams for brands. You can find out more on the UK Sports Sponsorship Database.

Jump on the theme with an American sports bar, and show all the sporting fixtures live on big TV screens. Even if you own an existing bar, you could give it an American makeover around the time of the big games, with suitable food and games such as beer pong.

As discussed in our 2016 feature, recent years have seen activity-themed bars such as Bounce (ping pong) and Swingers (crazy golf) find huge success with consumers who desire a bit more from their nights out than food and drink. Giving these concepts an American twist would be a good way to capitalise on the American sports trend.

Belushi’s operates a chain of bars across the UK and Europe with a distinctly American feel, and shows all the NFL games.

Technology is continuing to change the way fans interact with and consume their favourite sports. As discussed in this Deloitte article, innovative ticket packages are becoming more common, with apps enhancing the “game-day experience”. These apps offer more flexible ticket experiences, social hubs, and access to exclusive stadium areas.

You could also start a digital platform to deliver American sports content to fans in a new way. As well as allowing fans to be social, this allows for more tailored and targeted marketing.


Insider opinion 

Shereen Sagoo, head of content marketing and PR at Beds and Bars (which owns Belushi’s), comments on the growing trend:

“Our Belushi’s sports bars which are located in Europe’s big cities have benefited massively from screening American sports. We have seen an increasing demand for live American sports over the last 5 years, especially for events such as NFL, basketball, NBA, college football and boxing matches where our venues often sell out on advance ticket sales when it comes to big events.

“There are some good business opportunities in the UK if you gain a licence for your venue to stay open later in order to screen such events that are broadcast into the early hours of the morning. We have not had any problems filling bars for these events.

“There is definitely a market in Europe interested in American sport; we see plenty of Americans as well as other nationalities attend the events. The most popular event every year is Super Bowl, which we make the most of by hosting a massive Super Bowl party to generate further food and beverage sales. Last year, our 11 Belushi’s bars across the UK sold out for the event. Overall across the UK, our bars and pubs gained 1,408 advance ticket sales for seating in the venue for Super Bowl.

“Another way to make the most of this business opportunity is to get your brand name out there as the place to watch international sport through digital and print marketing. We have also invested heavily in our bars to enhance the sports fans’ experience. Our recent refurbishment in London Bridge has seen the space transform into a spacious, premium, seated sports venue with cutting edge 4k audiovisual complete with state-of-the-art surround sound.

“Creating a more premium sporting experience for sports fans has proven to help generate financial gain. Our London Bridge bar expansion has resulted in an impressive increase in sales growth of +78% with sporting events seeing a 183% growth.

“For us, offering American sports as well as sports from Australia and New Zealand in our venues has played a massive part in our overall branding and makes us stand out against competition.”