Americans were encouraged to ‘Wake up to Wembley’ on Sunday as the Detroit Lions defeated the Atlanta Falcons 22-21 in the first 9.30am ET kick-off in NFL history.
All eyes were on London in the national television game that started at 1.30pm in the UK but – in reverse – all eyes were on America to see how NFL fans and media on that side of the Atlantic responded to a potential new television viewing window.
There is a school of thought that a successful reaction to early kick-off games in London could pave the way for more lunchtime contests in the UK and, potentially, a package of matches starting at that time, or even a London franchise sometime down the road.
If television networks see the benefits of adding a new viewing window in the United States, we could eventually see a series of ‘Wake up to Wembley’ contests being played in London in the future. We should remember that Thursday Night Football started out as an eight-game package on the NFL Network and is now a financially-lucrative, every-week event that is simulcast on NFL Network and CBS.
Here is how some of the American media responded to the 9.30am start on the east coast of the United States.
Peter King, of Sports Illustrated and www.themmqb.com, said: “Two-thirds of America liked the early game on Sunday – well, at least the Americans who follow me on Twitter. It was basically bonus football. I liked having a novelty game and I hope the league plays one of the three London games next year in the same time slot.”
Michael David Smith, of Pro Football Talk, added: “I loved watching football first thing in the morning on Sunday. I hope this becomes a regular thing. The NFL’s decision to kick off Sunday’s game in London at 1.30pm – which is 9.30am ET – was brilliant. There’s nothing better than watching football first thing in the morning. The league is serious about establishing a permanent presence in London. Some American fans don’t like the NFL’s overseas experiment but we’re just going to have to get used to hearing both ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and ‘God Save the Queen’ before games. That ship has sailed, and it’s docked permanently on the other side of the Atlantic.”
ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said: “The early kick-off idea is absolutely brilliant. They have given people the following option: Would you rather watch a live football game that you have undoubtedly bet on or have fantasy people involved in, or would you rather watch pre-game shows?”
FOX drew an overnight Nielsen rating of 6.6 for the Falcons-Lions game. That equates to a viewing audience of approximately 7.6 million. Without going into all the technicalities of audience viewing figure measurements in the United States, these are the key points to note…
- FOX drew a rating of 12.3 for its afternoon game on Sunday
- CBS drew a rating of 10.6 and 13.0 for its double-header
- The 6.6 rating for the Falcons and Lions in London was more than double what FOX would normally see for its pre-game show
And that final point may be the most important of all as networks could be tempted into calling for more lunchtime kick-offs in London in the future and a potential package of such games. The actual playing of a live game certainly appears to have been more appetising than watching a pre-game show.
Chief Operating Officer of NFL Media, Brian Rolapp, said that his first impressions “were positive” but he wanted to see the full consolidated ratings and get feedback on the game before talking about it publically.
But America appears to have responded very positively to the Falcons-Lions game. At 2.30pm in the UK on Sunday – 10:30am ET in America – seven of the top 10 trending topics on Twitter in the United States were related to the game at Wembley Stadium.
Of course, not everything was rosy in the United States and there was some negative feedback to the early kick-off time and to London games being played at all, in fact!
Sportsnet New York’s Adam Schein said: “A 9.30am start just to placate London and make it all about money, I don’t like the whole thing. I hate it and despise the fact that it’s realistic that a team is going to be in London.”