What happens next?- Alistair Kirkwood

By iSportconnect | November 26, 2012

Alistair Kirkwood, Managing Director of NFL UK, has achieved consistent growth throughout his time in charge and in 2013, Wembley will host two regular-season games. With the sport going from strength to strength in the UK, the question on many peoples’ mind is “what happens next?”

By Ismail Uddin

 

There will be two regular-season games at Wembley, what does this mean to the organisation?

It’s a big statement, in terms of support from our ownership in what we’ve been doing. For people that aren’t familiar with the NFL, an NFL team has eight home games in a regular season, so we are now moving to quarter of an NFL season which is quite an achievement.

Also, we’ll learn a lot from how 2013. On the one hand, we have one game in September between two teams that haven’t been over before (Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Vikings) and in the second game we have Jacksonville Jaguars and San Francisco 49ers. We’ve got to connect with the Jaguars over the next four years, with them playing a game each year. That’s exciting because we hope they will be adopted by new fans as a returning team and we also hope that people that have their own allegiances will adopt them as their second favourite team. That will give us a good sense to help us build our team going forward.

Did St Louis Rams pulling out of their deal disappoint you?

No, the nature of the sport on the field means you have to make adjustments and sports business isn’t that far of it. There are really good reasons why that couldn’t happen and it was out of everybody’s hands and so Jacksonville agreed to step up and without them having that commitment, we almost certainly wouldn’t have been able move towards two games in 2013.

How influential was Shahid Khan in committing the Jaguars to four years abroad?

He’s a new owner, he’s very forward thinking and he’s very dynamic. If you look at the businesses that he’s been involved in, you see that he’s revolutionary and embraces risk. He fits the type of profile of an owner that will get behind some of the things that we are doing. Having an owner that is really supportive and wants to try new things is a really good thing for us.

Why choose the Minnesota Vikings? Did the fact they did not have contractual obligations to their stadium factor in your decision?

It obviously helps if a team is available to play. There are some teams that just won’t be able to play a home game in London even if they wanted because of their stadium contract terms, amongst other reasons.

The new TV broadcasting deals were announced a couple of days before the start of the season. Why?

They took a lot longer than all sides would have hoped. The English Premier League deal and the nature of it meant that doing deals before then was going to problematic because broadcasters wanted to know what their commitments were and what they were looking at, in terms of budgets and things like that. That was probably the biggest external factor as to why our deals longer than we had anticipated.

Why did you opt to switch the rights from ESPN to BBC?

Quite a lot of it is trying to actually see if we can get the balance right between the accessibility of our sport, introducing our sport to new fans, getting other forms of promotion of our sport, making sure that we get as many live games as possible, as much volume as possible and that our hard-core fans can be as well serviced as possible.

You’ve got Sky showing sixteen live games in a season, you’ve got Channel Four showing their seventeen games and you’ve got the BBC doing Monday Night, as well as Play-Off highlights, the Super Bowl and also the Wembley game highlights.

Sky’s our primary broadcaster and from the perspective of the fan, it’s the home of the NFL. But you also want to be able to reach out to either non-Sky subscribers or people that wouldn’t necessarily think about watching games on a Sunday.

The BBC doesn’t have commentary while Channel Four does, which some may find unhelpful as they would like some feedback of the game…

Absolutely. On the other side, the benefit of being on the BBC is that the games do get onto the iPlayer and get shown in condensed highlights through the rest of the week, so the numbers have been really pleasing so far.

What are your latest TV ratings like for this season?

Where we’re at is good, we’re across the board at about ten per cent. Historically, we’ve found that post-Wembley, we started to accelerate more because we’ve had the benefit of broader interest in the sport and then season then starts to intensify and our audience numbers increase further. I’d like to think that by the end of the season, we’ll be at the centre of the growth trajectory that we enjoyed last season, which was really good.

L.A look like they’re on the right path to getting a NFL franchise, is a London franchise more likely?

We haven’t got the right scale of fan base yet. We need to prove that two games work well, that the teams enjoy the experience and take it almost one year at a time. I’m very pleased with the fact that we’re going to have our seventh and eighth regular season games played in the UK because a few years ago, that sounded very much like wishful thinking. For some people, a sign of madness!

What’s the level of fan base you really need to justify a franchise in London?

We would need triple the size of what we are currently. You are talking about playing week in, week out and it’s a slightly different model because you’d be supporting a single team in the market as opposed to different teams that keep coming over. That’s why Jacksonville is an important development. The key message is that the NFL works brilliantly well in the States and I’m really grateful that the owners empower us to try new things to try and grow in a new market. It’s really important that we get the balance right, but we don’t actually ever do things that would impinge or negatively reflect on the US. We should continue to grow ambitiously, but not without caution.

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