Hundreds of millions around the world will tune in to watch Super Bowl 51 between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, but the NFL is hoping to capture the world's attention for more than just one game.
One billion chicken wings, $90 million (84 million euros) gambled, 28 million tweets, $3,000 and upwards for a ticket. The statistics surrounding the Super Bowl are mind-boggling, but as the 51st edition nears, it's the statistics coming out of Germany that are more surprising.
German TV program "ran sport" on channel "Pro Sieben" pulls in half a million fans on a regular season game day to watch the NFL. For last season's Super Bowl, coverage peaked at over two million and averaged 1.8 million. Each year since the start three years ago, "ran" have annually increased the depth of their coverage, offering more and more per week.
The NFL's attack is two-pronged, with social media and localization also playing key roles in increasing interest and relevance. Working with an agency in Germany (as they don't have an office here) has helped the NFL take big strides forward. Both Facebook and Twitter have included a remarkable amount of video content - including New England Patriots' and Germany's most successful football player Sebastian Vollmer teaching his teammates German.
"We're extremely satisfied with coverage in Germany. Given the dynamics of TV in Germany, free-to-air TV was always going to be the best way to get reach," Akash Jain, vice president of international commercial development at the NFL, said at SPOBIS (Europe's biggest sports business event). Jain also said that Germany had a very important role to play in the expansion of the sport and that stadia wise, they're perfectly set up.
Streaming for the next generation
Besides the nearly free-to-air RTL, the NFL has also looked to the online streaming market. DAZN, Germany's sporting equivalent of Netflix (and for the same price), offer 61 games (including the Playoffs and the Super Bowl), plus their additional weekly highlight reel "Red Zone" - every touchdown from every game.
"DAZN offers fans the chance to consume more live coverage of their favorite teams. And for new fans, it's easier than ever to connect to the sport. That's how a sport like this grows and for exactly that reason we don't see ourselves as competition to other providers, but rather as another player helping to build the market," Kay Dammholz, managing director of Rights and Distribution DACH, told DW.
With Germany's NFL market working together, it's no surprise that fans are diving head first into the sport. DAZN remain mute about their numbers, but say they're expecting their Super Bowl coverage (with US commentary) to be very well received.
"The increase of providers means the demand automatically does the same. Fans have more opportunities to get information on their sport, and so connecting to your favorite player or clubs via social media has never been easier. This has helped coverage of US sport, particularly football, establish itself in the German-speaking world," Dammholz said.
Social media savvy
Another key aspect of bringing the game to Germany has been establishing homegrown personalities. Florian Schmidt-Sommerfeld, one of the game-day commentators on "ran sport", and Icke Dommisch, the on-screen social media guru, have been big hits.
"It probably helps that our commentators and experts are also at home on social media. We are 'digital natives' as they say. The fact we speak their language, is something the viewers recognize," says Schmidt-Sommerfeld. Effective social media coverage has been a huge part of nurturing the current football community, as well as welcoming new faces.
"I think interest in football was always there, it's just that ProSieben Sat.1 awoke a sleeping beast. Football fans have been waiting for a format like ranNFL," Schmidt-Sommerfeld says.
While the UK remains the reported favorite for a European-based NFL team, it is Germany's support that runs deeper. NFL Europe started in the early 1990s and ended in 2007, and was dominated by teams from Germany, who not only stuck around longer than most but were also more successful. Thirty thousand attended the German Bowl in 1999 and while numbers dipped gradually to a concerning low in 2007, it's slowly been working its way back up since then. Last October, 13,000 were out in Berlin to see Braunschweig's New Yorker Lions claim their 11th title.
"The GFL is growing and growing more professional. There's a long way to go until Germany becomes a football country, but the foundation is set," said Schmidt-Sommerfeld.
Who do you support?
In the NFL, it was the Seattle Seahawks' hard-hitting, loudly-confident, and eventually successful approach that won over many fans. Gradually, being an NFL fan was as cool as having binge-watched the latest Netflix series. Wooly hats with team logos popped up everywhere and while doubts remained about the true nature of some 'fans,' there was no denying the growth in numbers of German football fans.
There are 250 clubs and 500 American football teams in Germany. The GFL continues to expand and improve. "The 2016 season was the most visited in years, so far as I know, and was definitely over the 160,000 fans mark of 2012," Eric Böhm, an online editor at Sport1 and a US sports expert, told DW.
Greater access to games, has not only seen fans overcome issues with the length of games and rule complication, but also encouraged them to get out and give the game a go or support a local team. Even the dip in local heroes hasn't stopped growth.
Björn Werner went from a starting defensive end with the Indianapolis Colts to retiring in January of this year, as did former New York Giants tackle Markus Kuhn. Sebastian Vollmer spent the year out with injury and New Orleans Saints linebacker Kasim Edebali is reported to be considering a move to the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) after his promising career stalled.
Local heroes and local games
Stuttgart-born Moritz Böhringer's incredible story certainly helped, though. The 23-year-old became the first ever international player to be drafted by an NFL team without having played in college. The Minnesota Vikings picked him and have spent a year bringing him up to speed on the practice squad. Having signed a futures contract - a deal that secures a players services for the future - with the Vikings at the start of 2017, next season will decide whether he truly has a future in the professional game.
"A German star, who scored touchdowns, would take German interest in football that next step forward," said Böhm. "The three German-American St. Brown brothers could play a key role. The eldest, Equanimeous, is already a college star und could be picked high in the 2018 NFL draft."
Interestingly, Böhm added that football has become more of an interest to general sports fans and the being someone interested in the NFL has seen him go from exotic to normal.
The hope is that feeling continues to spread and one thing that might encourage that is a Europe-based franchise. With teams now moving cities inside America to increase revenue and exposure, it's hardly beyond imagination either. The transatlantic games will continue, and Germany will be hoping to make good on Jain's suggestion at SPOBIS that Germany have a realistic chance of hosting an NFL game. It's reported that the wait might only last five years. Either way, the NFL knows it has reached a ceiling at home, so it's time to venture outside.
Only three days before Super Bowl 51, the NFL announced that following the success of the game this season, Mexico City would host another next season. The Patriots game against the Oakland Raiders will be the fifth (four in London) played outside the US next season. ProSieben's coverage will include a countdown show and includes expertise from Dallas Cowboys hopeful Mark Nzeocha (German-American) and the aforementioned Markus Kuhn.
The future of American football points towards supporters just beginning to create their own fan culture. So while US food delivery services are expected to make a third of their annual income on Sunday, the NFL will likely be more concerned with how they can deliver more football to the rest of the world.