From Mick Luckhurst to Neil Reynolds: The NFL on British TV

From Mick Luckhurst to Neil Reynolds: The NFL on British TV

In February, a global audience of 56 million watched the Kansas City Chiefs face the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII. The NFL holds games in London, Mexico and Germany – and one team even wants to play in Ireland.

The sport’s popularity is at an all-time high on this side of the pond, and the league’s international charge shows no signs of slowing. It’s never been so easy for UK fans, and even global fans, to watch NFL football. 

But it wasn’t always this way.

American football first graced UK television screens back in 1982 when Channel 4 brought viewers highlights from a solitary game each week. The channel paid the NFL £100,000 to broadcast that season’s championship game, Super Bowl XVII, where the Miami Dolphins were defeated by a Washington team that won the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl. 

In the mid to late-80s, the sport became so popular in the UK that Channel 4’s Super Bowl coverage regularly attracted four million viewers – and fans were able to witness legends like quarterbacks Joe Montana, Dan Marino and John Elway, running back Walter Payton, linebacker Lawrence Taylor, and wide receiver Jerry Rice, battle it out to reach the top of the NFL summit. Towards the end of the decade, former NFL kicker Mick Luckhurst was hired to front the coverage, adding instant credibility – as Luckhurst spent seven seasons with the Atlanta Falcons from 1981 to 1987, scoring 558 points.

However, the arrival of the Premier League in 1992 changed everything. A new league, that left many of football’s problems from the 1980s behind, enticed sports fans with excitement at a far more reasonable hour – even if the World League of American Football (which eventually became NFL Europe) began to draw sizeable crowds.

Sky Sports broadcast their first-ever live NFL game in 1995, and Channel 4’s coverage of the sport ended in 1998 – and UK fans tuned in to watch John Elway finally win the Super Bowl title that had eluded him for so long, as his Denver Broncos defeated the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII.

Terrestrial NFL coverage moved between Channel 5, the BBC, and Channel 4 until 2015 when it was announced the sport would be returning to the BBC. But most importantly, the NFL London Games arrived in 2007 – when the New York Giants defeated the Miami Dolphins at a rain-soaked Wembley Stadium. The UK’s appetite for the NFL was growing. 

Jason Bell and Osi Umenyiora were first beamed into UK households in 2016 when the BBC began airing its highlights show, The NFL Show, and broadcast exclusive coverage of the NFL London Games. Bell and Umenyiora, now mainstays of the NFL UK scene, moved to ITV with the highlights show in 2022.

Meanwhile, Sky Sports’ NFL offering continued to grow, and by 2022, they were able to launch Sky Sports NFL – a whole channel dedicated to round-the-clock coverage of the sport. Now, NFL die-hards can watch countless games, and even tune in to NFL RedZone to see every touchdown, from every game, every week.

“It’s incredible when you think about how far the game has come,” Sky Sports’ Neil Reynolds told Decyfr at the 2021 NFL London Games.

“When I was first getting into it as a fan, watching one-hour highlights on Channel 4 one week after the games are played, to what we have now.

“You can watch everything in Manchester that you can watch in Miami, same in London to Los Angeles – it’s fantastic.”

The internet, of course, helped make this happen, with the arrival of NFL Game Pass, and the ability for fans to watch every game, live, no matter where they are in the world. Now DAZN have stepped in, allowing subscribers to add Game Pass to their existing plans, further enabling a rapidly-growing international audience to step into NFL fandom.

The NFL’s global rise is thanks, in part, to their incredibly successful International Series. But live games, live broadcasts, live analysis, and full highlight shows, prove it’s also because the game has never been easier to consume around the world.

It’s a far cry from fans only being able to watch highlights from a single game once a week.

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