On a cool evening in Hamburg, Germany last month, about 60 die-hard National Football League fans gathered at a party venue, Der Player, a fancy eatery. Wearing jerseys and hoodies from teams like the Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders, they grabbed seats to watch a taping of “Prime Time Football Live,” which attracts thousands of viewers on YouTube.
At 7 p.m., former coach and now commissioner of the semipro European League of Football Patrick Essum cheered the audience before starting the countdown: “Drei, zwei, eins, football bromance!” He then introduced his panelists: former coach Andreas Nomensson; Mika Kaul, a television commentator; and Kasim Edebali, who played six seasons in the NFL
for the next 90 minutes, he reviewed the latest games, peppered the audience with questions, such as whether Patrick Mahomes is one of the five best quarterbacks of all time, and analyzed the four-game suspension that Denver Broncos cornerback Kareem Jackson received. Phrases like “bang-bang play,” “hard-nosed linebacker” and “field possession” were tossed around easily.
Esum kept the show light and dynamic, and he leaned on Edebali for his expertise as a linebacker. At some points, they stood together to demonstrate legal disposal techniques, and they talked at length about how to study opposing crimes. Afterwards, the audience crowded around the panelists and took a group photo.
Jenny Geck, who wore a Chiefs jersey and has been watching NFL games on German television since 2015, said, “It’s very interactive to sit next to him when we talk about football.” “You can feel the NFL is getting a lot more popular.”
Long the largest league in the United States with more than $20 billion a year in revenue, the NFL is looking for new ways to grow, including overseas. And nowhere is the league progressing faster than in Germany.
The spectators’ knowledge and enthusiasm for the tapings – some of which came from as far away as Austria – were indicative of the NFL’s growing stature in a country whose sports landscape is ruled by football. Soccer is still far behind the national game, but 3.6 million Germans say they are avid NFL fans – that’s 25 percent more than in Britain, which has hosted regular season games since 2007.
Interest peaked last year when the NFL played its first regular season game in Germany. Tickets sold out in minutes, as was the case for two games played on consecutive weekends in Frankfurt this year, starting Sunday when Kansas City takes on the Miami Dolphins.
Ben Hensler, who has followed Kansas City since Joe Montana led the team in the early 1990s, tried to buy tickets online but discovered there were more than a million people ahead of him. Desperate, he paid 3,000 euros, or $3,175, for VIP tickets for himself and his two teenage godsons, who sold their PS5 game consoles to raise the money.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing because we’re not going to Kansas City to watch a game,” he said. “Years ago, no one knew who the leaders were and now they are the biggest team in Germany.”
Hensler’s godson, he said, is typical of a younger generation of fans who grew up on video games and social media and enjoy the high-octane entertainment of the NFL. Soccer seems slow and traditional to them, while soccer “seems to be a modern game and, despite all the interruptions to the action, it seems fast, especially on social media,” he said.
The NFL is trying to capitalize on that interest. In October, the league opened an office in Düsseldorf and five NFL teams were granted exclusive marketing rights in the country.
One of those clubs, New England Patriots hire Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Kuhn, two Germans who had played for the team, to serve as German-language commentators. Team owner Robert Kraft said his time as a Patriot is a big reason the team has 13 fan clubs in Germany and several more in Austria and Switzerland. The team’s two employees are working full-time to find new sponsorship in Germany.
Kansas City had a good start in Germany because its owner, Clark Hunt, also owned a soccer team, FC Dallas. Player Development Partnership With Germany’s top football team FC Bayern. Kansas City is expected to generate more than €1 million ($1.05 million) in revenue this year from sponsorships and other deals in Germany.
“Obviously, it’s a very small portion of the total revenue, but the growth rate is exponential,” said Kansas City President Mark Donovan. “Taking advantage of this now will pay off decades from now.”
After years of rapid growth, the question now is whether the NFL can sustain its own hype. The excitement around the Games in Munich and now Frankfurt is genuine. But like the annual games held in London, these may also become regular.
In this weather, The league’s new media partner, RTL, However, more than 170 regular-season games will be shown Its ratings so far have been mixed, According to Fanatics, Germany is the largest market for NFL licensed merchandise outside North America, but the 10 percent increase in sales this year is down from recent years.
Football was introduced to Germany by American soldiers after World War II, and the first semipro league began in 1979. The country was home to some of the strongest teams in the NFL’s European League before it was discontinued in 2007.
The cycle of Edebali’s journey has largely paralleled the development of football in Germany since then. Edebali, 34, joined a flag football team in Hamburg at the age of 9 and fell in love with the energy, tactics and camaraderie of the game.
He made a simple but seemingly impossible pledge: At age 15, he joined the Hamburg Huskies tackle team in order to make it to the NFL, then realized how much harder he needed to work.
Björn Werner, who became the first German player drafted in the first round, told Adebali about USA Football’s International Student Program, which placed him at a high school in New Hampshire.
“I felt like I won the lottery,” Adebali said.
After receiving a scholarship to play at Boston College, he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the New Orleans Saints. After three seasons there, he spent parts of the next three years with the Broncos, Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals and Raiders.
As is the case with many players, NFL teams stopped calling, so Adebali returned to Hamburg to play for the Hamburg Sea Devils in the newly formed European League of Football in 2021. He realized that he was a folk hero to German football fans, who saw him as a pioneer to make it to the NFL.
Alexander Steinforth, manager of NFL operations in Germany, said, “He managed to find his way in a world where there was no clear path for international players to come into the league.”
With the NFL ramping up its activities in Germany and fans eager for more content about the league, Adebali took advantage of his experience and went to work as a commentator for ProSieben, which had the rights to show NFL games. Had rights.
Edebali also joined Werner, Assum and other football legends in Football Bromance, a content company promoting the league and the game. The group’s sponsor rented a 5,000-seat theater in Frankfurt for the Friday before the Indianapolis Colts and Patriots game so they could interact with fans at an event called BroMania.
“It’s almost like football is a language,” Adebali said. “Obviously, native speakers speak it best, but in Germany we speak it too.”
However, despite all the enthusiasm for the league, the NFL is a long way from establishing a team in Europe. The logistics of transporting players and equipment between continents is a major hurdle. Even games sold in England and Germany lose millions of dollars.
Still, the NFL looks set for the long term. In 2015, the league created a strategy to find new fans in Germany with German-language websites, newspapers and social media. It formed a partnership with ProSieben, which helped attract “heritage” fans who rooted for the NFL’s European leagues in the 1990s. The league introduced Game Pass, which allows fans to watch multiple games each Sunday.
The NFL has been successful in attracting the young, well-educated audiences that advertisers want to reach. Marcel Schwarzkopf, who runs sports sponsorships for DKB, an online bank that is the presenting sponsor of NFL games in Germany, said the NFL has a new, more innovative way to mix entertainment with sports than “King Soccer”. There was a more digital approach.
The league’s fans, he said, are “exactly the target we’re reaching with our retail group: higher purchasing power than football fans and above average interest in finance.”
DKB is also a participant in the football bromance that has helped turn Asum, Edebali, Werner and other former football players into celebrities that young fans recognize.
The NFL knows that getting kids to play football will increase the likelihood that they will remain fans as they grow up. The league is sponsoring a flag football league, which has helped promote participation in tackle football. According to Fuad Merdanovic, president of the German American Football Association, there are more than 350 football clubs in Germany with approximately 50,000 players, up from 30,000 in 2006.
“People here want to be a part of something bigger, and once you see that other people are interested too, you want to get involved,” Edebali said.