Op ed: Stadium of opportunity

04 Apr 2019

By: Sport Industry Group

The new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is open at last. With all the delays and frustrations now firmly in the past – though still no naming rights deal in place – Steve Cording, Head of Sponsorship at ESI Media, considers what the venue could mean for London and its growing status as the home of US sports in Europe...

The highly anticipated new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is testimony to the growing influence and importance of London to American sports.

“It is an NFL Stadium,” Spurs’ Head of Business Development Aidan Mullally told me. “That’s the key message, from the very start of the design process we had the NFL in mind. The anchor tenant is Tottenham Hotspur but this is designed to be a permanent home for the NFL outside the US.”

The billion-pound arena hosted its first Premier League game this week when Crystal Palace came to visit. It has been constructed with painstaking precision and input from chairman Daniel Levy and with a ten-year contract with the NFL to host two regular games a season starting this October, the implications for Spurs, the NFL and London are huge.

There have been regular season matches in London since 2007, played at Wembley - which takes 10 days to get NFL-ready - and Twickenham, where the locker rooms had to be constructed from one of the stadium bars.

This new ground is totally different and will deliver an enhanced viewing experience to all spectators. As well as the football pitch, there is a retractable artificial surface, meaning that the front row of the stands will be occupied in NFL mode. The NFL locker rooms are bigger than anything else in Europe, there are bespoke booths for US broadcasters, plus for teams and officials, and the turnstiles on the South Stand have the ability for re-entry, encouraging fan interaction outside the stadium – potentially interesting for brands.

So why London? With the capital being the biggest market for the NFL outside of America it was the only place to build their second home.

The league says its fanbase in the UK for the sport is now estimated at between 13 and 15 million and the commercial benefits of being based London are obvious. Firstly, a population of 10 million provides unrivalled reach. Secondly, the capital’s economy continues to grow despite all the uncertainty over Brexit, with HMRC data showing that two-thirds of UK's highest paid individuals live in London or the South-East. Finally, this is a city that is passionate about sport!

If further evidence was needed of the pulling power of London, 2019 will be unique with the MLB coming to Europe for the first time and joining the NFL and the NBA in hosting regular season games in the capital.

This all presents new and exciting possibilities for brands to become involved in activations around the matches. The Evening Standard not only covers the NFL editorially, but has in the past worked with both Subway and Marriott, who also want to align themselves with the sport in this country. The sport attracts big names, such as Virgin Atlantic, enabling a transatlantic reach for brands, speaking directly to a London audience.

The new partnership between a Premier League team and the NFL will take this to another level with a unique global opportunity for marketers to reach audiences of both, together. There are already shared partners in Nike and New Era and this will grow as the NFL continues to invest in London with the natural end game that there will, one day, be a permanent franchise based in the UK.

That could still be some way off with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell having already indicated that the obstacles could be too problematic. However, there is no doubt that the current model is working with this year’s games taking the total attendances over the past 12 years over the two million mark. Commercial success is driving the move of US sports outside of the country and London is right at the forefront of global cities offering themselves up as alternative homes.

There has probably never been a better time to be a sports fan in London. Where else would you get to see the Yankees, Red Sox, Knicks, Wizards, Rams, Bears, Raiders, All Blacks, Australia and Real Madrid all play in the space of 12 months?

This new stadium is already well on its way to cementing its place in London sporting culture and confirms the capital as a hotspot for US sport investment for years to come. Roll on October for the first of many NFL experiences in Tottenham.