American Football: “Chess with refrigerators”: Germany in NFL fever

For Markus Kuhn, the boom came practically out of nowhere.

American Football: “Chess with refrigerators”: Germany in NFL fever

For Markus Kuhn, the boom came practically out of nowhere. The former professional would never have thought it possible that the American football league NFL would take place in front of almost 50,000 fans in Frankfurt.

“When I started playing American football in 2001, my classmates looked at me strangely,” said 37-year-old Kuhn, who became the first German to score a touchdown in the US professional league in 2014. The TV broadcast of the games increased - and a real hype began in Germany. “I couldn’t have imagined in a hundred years that things would be like they are now,” said Kuhn.

Sold out after a few minutes

The two NFL games in Frankfurt were sold out after just a few minutes. Millions of interested parties came away empty-handed. These are two regular league games in the ninth and tenth weeks of the season. The NFL only enters the knockout phase after 18 weeks. The best team can hold the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season, the Super Bowl. But it will still take a while until then.

Real top teams will be competing at the “Frankfurt Games” on November 5th and 12th (3:30 p.m./RTL and DAZN). The current Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs around star quarterback Patrick Mahomes will first face the Miami Dolphins. A week later, the six-time champion New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts meet.

A development that excites NFL Germany boss Alexander Steinforth. “In many areas, Germany has developed into the most important NFL market outside the USA,” said the manager. Recent surveys show that there are around 18 million fans in Germany, 3.6 million of whom follow the NFL intensively. This is also reflected in the increasing merchandising sales and TV ratings. “We have excellent media coverage in Germany and the NFL community loves the entertainment and event character of football,” emphasized Steinforth.

NFL on TV a huge success

The times when only the Super Bowl was broadcast on German TV are over. If you didn't understand terms like fumble or snap, the sports magazine ranNFL (ProSiebenSat.1) helped. Before the current season, RTL secured the broadcasting rights for the first time. On average, around 750,000 viewers tuned in to the games at 7 p.m. in the first eight weeks of the season, the broadcaster announced. According to the station, interest is particularly high among young men between the ages of 14 and 29.

But where does the fascination come from? According to Kuhn, American football combines everything that makes a sport interesting. "Athletics? We show it. Physicality? Do we have tactical components? We're the right address for that too," said Kuhn, who, among other things, works as a TV expert and brand ambassador for the New England Patriots. "We're playing - as the saying goes - chess with refrigerators."

In addition, the competition is very balanced. "The whole league is geared towards ensuring that every year, every team has the same chance of winning the Super Bowl - and that every player, but also every fan, has the feeling: 'This year could be our year'", explained Kuhn. The main reason for this is the draft system, in which the worst team of the previous season has a better chance of signing promising talent.

Germany hype is not a coincidence

It is no coincidence that sport is currently experiencing a hype in Germany, said Tim Ströbel, professor of marketing and sports management at the University of Bayreuth. The goal of the NFL strategists is to develop new sources of income. Germany is sometimes suitable because of its decades of football experience: the German League for American Football (GFL) was founded in 1979. From 1998 to 2007, the NFL had its own branch in Europe - including the multiple title holders Frankfurt Galaxy. And almost a year ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers met the Seattle Seahawks in the first NFL game in Germany in Munich. The enthusiasm was huge.

“The sport is also appealing to younger audiences because they only have to concentrate on short game sequences,” said Ströbel. Despite taking hours, the game is very “mobile phone compatible.” The entertainment character is also enticing: “If a player is suspected to be dating Taylor Swift, then she will be shown as often as possible.” The NFL knows how to use stories like this like no other sports league.

Will this huge enthusiasm last? As head of NFL Germany, Steinforth is confident: "If we look to the future, we are convinced that the current NFL hype will lead to long-term and constant growth of our fan community." More games will take place in Germany as part of the four-year plan with the NFL.