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Football in the UK: Watching the Super Bowl from across the pond

Sean Michael shares what it's like to watch the Super Bowl when it starts at 11:30pm and you're thousands of miles from the US.

Stuffed french toast and a side of bacon
Stuffed french toast and a side of bacon

Today is an interesting day to be in the UK. The EU referendum was held yesterday and the people of the UK have voted to leave the EU, well at least over 50% of them. My Facebook and Twitter feeds look like Troy from Community walking into the darkest timeline. But this isn’t a political essay. People staying up into the wee hours of the morning in the UK reminds me of when I've stayed up late to watch the Super Bowl.

I’ve been in England for two Super Bowls and had two dramatically different experiences. For the first one I was here for, I stayed up late (the Super Bowl doesn’t even begin until 11:30pm our time) and just watched it on my PC using my Slingbox. It wasn’t a BAD experience because, football, but it wasn’t great either. The second one I watched was at a restaurant full of American football fans and teammates from my university team.

Back home I watch games with my Dad. Always have, wish I always could. For big games we occasionally have parties or go to one. A good gameday experience to me should involve people you like, great food, and sports. In fact that’s pretty much what a good day for me would look like in general.

Now jump across the pond to the UK. The Super Bowl doesn’t even start in the UK until 11:30pm our time. That’s understandable since the Super Bowl is an American event catered to be on prime time for all audiences in the US. But the result of that is that you need to find a place that will even be open that late and that’s showing the game. You could have a party yourself but may have a hard time finding people to watch a game past 3am, even if you had a load of friends that love American football over here.

For my second Super Bowl in the UK I watched the game at Annie's Burger Shack. They’re is a hotspot for American football in Nottingham. They (full disclosure) sponsor our team, have us and the local semi pro team the Nottingham Caesars over regularly and even have American style bacon, which trust me is a big deal. It’s completely different to watch a game surrounded by people who know the sport and are actively watching it. Between the bacon, the football, and my friends it was a great experience. I mean, they served breakfast at like 1am in a building stacked two floors high full of football fans in the UK. What more could I ask for?

As I said in a preview post from this series, being in the UK has a way of refining your love for the game. You have to go out of your way to watch it at times and that’s especially true during a game that runs from 11:30pm through about 3:30am. My recommendation for anyone living abroad during a big American sporting event is to find a place full of other people who love the game. The times I get most homesick are Thanksgiving, March Madness, and holidays. Going to Annie's helped me feel at home during a big game.

If I had to summarize the experience that night in terms of the restaurant and the people I would say the bacon was greasy, the restaurant was loud, I didn’t get home until 4am, and I loved it.

But while watching the game at Annie’s was better, there was one thing that wasn’t great, watching the game on the BBC.

Now I don’t want to bash the entire BBC. Normally, it’s a good news organisation and they do great work. Most students on my course would jump at the opportunity to work or intern for them. But man… their American football coverage during the game wasn’t good, or at minimum drastically different to US broadcasts.

A couple things to get out of the way really quickly. The BBC isn’t the only way to watch the Super Bowl in England. Sky Sports carries the game and from what I’ve heard is a really good experience. I’ve been told they know what they’re doing, are experts, and I’m pretty sure that people who like the sport and care about it usually watch it on Sky Sports.

However, my guess is that plenty of people who don’t watch American football on a regular basis end up watching the BBC’s broadcast of it. That makes it important for the BBC to provide coverage that is up to standard. Also, the BBC doesn’t have ads. I don’t remember if they kept to their no ad policy during the game and just had dramatically less advertising or they just had no ads at all but the result was the same, lots of air space to fill.

You might think that having less ads would be a benefit to the game but there’s a large problem. The Super Bowl has spots built into it for multi-million dollar ad spots on American networks and that isn’t going to change any time soon. This means that while you in America are watching a Doritos commercial the BBC is filling airwaves with content.

I’ve never worked a booth for a game but I assume that during the advertisements the crews put together those great pieces breaking down and analyzing the game. They put together highlights, point out mistakes, and insert that crazy 360 view breakdown of the play. All that is done when they are off camera to make things better for when they get back on it. Conversely, the BBC jumps into the booth where they have commentators talk about it.

Now this in itself wouldn’t be a problem if they had insightful analysis but, not to sound spiteful, they just didn’t. Their replays didn’t even have graphics. There was no Madden esc circling of players. There were no highlights of what to watch for in a play. They just kind of played some clips a few times in regular speed. Even as a lifelong watcher of American football I sometimes need someone to say "look at number 94" before they hit play.

Another thing they do is have guests in studio during the game. In the first half of the game they had a soccer manager on to talk about if he would want to manage a team with Cam Newton on it. Now this might just be a UK thing but I asked myself and others "why in the world are they asking him?" I’m willing to bet he couldn’t pick Cam Netwon out of a crowd, and that’s saying something since Cam is a 6’5" and has been featured in a photoshoot for GQ.

During halftime I got stuffed French toast with a side of American style bacon. I had a jolly good time while eating that, watching the half time show, and joking with those around me about who they would have as a guest in the second half. A badminton player perhaps? Then, much to my surprise they had a Formula 1 racecar driver on as a guest during the second half! Now I’m not saying Formula 1 isn’t difficult, I’m sure it’s extremely hard and requires tremendous skill, but it’s got to be almost nothing like American Football. I get connecting with your audience but how about pulling up a rugby player to talk about how the games are similar or different. He could even make a joke about us wearing pads. As you’ll see in next week’s post, many people here love pointing out that American football players wear pads.

I may seem a bit harsh when talking about the BBC broadcast but honestly I was almost more confused than upset. The BBC is a great network and they have NFL experts and former players on there all the time. I don’t know why for the Super Bowl they wouldn’t pull out all the stops but they didn’t at least for this Super Bowl. Maybe they'll improve the next time they do it. Just because you aren't great once doesn't mean you can't be great someday.

But really the Super Bowl isn’t about if they highlighted Von Miller correctly or if they analyzed if Cam Newton could have jumped on that fumble. It’s about the sport, the people, and good food. And much to my delight, that experience is totally achievable in the UK.

Let us know in the comments what you’d like to hear about in the future segments of this series and please share your experiences watching big games away from home.

Past posts from this series:

Who is this Sean bloke and picking teams in England

Being in the UK let me learn to play football as an adult

Articles on the way (not in the order that they'll appear):

Rugby vs American football

The setup of American football in the UK

Building football through youth teams