It was the first time that an NCAA College Football game was played in Australia. The California Golden Bears defeated the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 51–31 in front of 61,000 passionate fans.
The day was a success. To put this into context, thirty kilometres away, an NRL game between the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles and Canberra Raiders attracted a crowd of only 11,137 people.
Arriving at ANZ Stadium in Sydney to watch a regular season college football game was a dream come true for many Australian NFL fans. American football is becoming an increasingly popular sport and a potential marketing gold mine for the NFL.
It was an authentic college experience with both teams bringing over cheerleaders and marching bands. Watching the two teams complete their warm-up drills was a completely foreign experience.
The first play of the NCAA season was an unsuccessful onside kick by the Warriors. What a way to start the year in another country! The Bears gained possession and scored on their first drive and in true Cal spirit, fired the Victory Cannon.
NRL stadiums are built to host American football games as the dimensions are not too dissimilar to American football fields. The atmosphere was good, however, the Australian fans didn’t know how to react in certain game situations.
The importance of a big tackle or a third and long were ignored by the spectators. The feeling was far different to games played on American soil.
The midday kick-off, and the unique nature of this event, resulted in an unprecedented demand for food and beverages. Fans took to social media complaining about the lack of food and drinks available only to realise that every bar had run out of beer by halftime. Many fans reported waiting in line for over an hour.
Around 10,000 hot dogs and 70,000 beers sold during the event, but it appears ANZ Stadium were not properly prepared for the huge crowds that attended the game.
The majority of merchandise was sold out one hour before the match with the lack of planning becoming more evident. It was a missed opportunity for teams to promote their products which left fans frustrated.
There would need to be a lot of fine tuning if the NFL were to consider playing games in Australia. Currently the NFL are playing matches in London. Logistically a lot easier to travel to from the east coast of America, the seven-hour flight allows players to adapt without having to drastically change their body clock to the new time zone.
There is scope for an NFL preseason game to be played Down Under to build on the continued evolution of the sport and tap into the ever-growing market. The interest is definitely there. However, a regular season game would be a viable option.
Logistically there would be too many complications as the schedule would have to allow both teams a bye week after they play and the lack of recovery time would dramatically decrease their chances of winning their following game.
It’s a game of inches with every team is trying to get a competitive advantage. And playing a game in Australian would not be a popular outcome from team owners.
The NFL will be keeping a close eye to see how the Bears and Warriors recover from their game after a fourteen-day break. If they deem it a success, we may see an opening for an NFL preseason game to be played in Australia.
The NCAA must be congratulated for having a progressive mindset and allowing the game to grow internationally. And Australia is very grateful.
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