Our interview with Alistair Kirkwood on the future of NFL in the UK.

Our interview with Alistair Kirkwood on the future of NFL in the UK.

Last month, I posted on the blog an open letter to the managing director of NFL UK, Alistair Kirkwood. I was nicely surprised, just hours later to find a reply from the man himself on how we take it forward so I opted for a phone call so we could discuss it through in more detail, to allow an opportunity for any further questions and of course potential challenge.

Alistair seemed great, the fans are without a doubt at the forefront of what they do and both he, and the organisation are open, honest and willing to be transparent. There were things no doubt in our conversation that aren’t yet public knowledge but that Alistair was willing to share so that we understood exactly why things are done the way they are.

You’ll find a transcript of the conversation below, but first I just wanted to say thanks to all the tweets of support I received and the good luck messages ahead of the call.

Liz: Thanks once again, obviously, for the telephone call and coming back so quickly after the initial e-mail. You know, it just goes to show how important it is to you that the fan-base is being heard, so thanks for that.

Alistair: No, no problem at all. Well, thank you for going to the time and effort. I’ve written long e-mails in the past myself. I’ve probably got a sense of how long it probably took you to do that.

Liz: That’s good. So obviously as I mentioned in the initial communication the two themes that came out of kind of my discussions over Twitter with other fans, which were obviously around improving the game day experience and the availability of the different merchandise available currently. I appreciate in your e-mail response that you said you’ve got some fairly straightforward responses, some where you needed to have a little bit of a think, and then also some where you could provide context to as to why NFL makes the decisions it does. So I’ll just hand over to you to address those concerns.

Alistair: Yeah, sure. I think my starting point, Liz, is that probably in many cases the context, rather than great answers, because I’m conscious that everybody will have different viewpoints and different wants and desires and we can’t necessarily satisfy on an individual basis. But if people at least feel that there’s a bit of transparency in terms of why we do what we do, they may still disagree with it but at least they kind of hopefully go, “Well, I understand why they get to where they get to.” So I think that’s kind of my starting point. In other cases where we’re just falling short, I’ll be honest and just tell you, “We’re falling short.” So opening up your letter now, so no fan rallies. Was that the first point? No. Fan rallies on Saturdays and no game outside of London. Right.

Liz: Yeah.

Alistair: Okay. Right, so… I don’t think that there’ll ever be a situation where we’ll have international series games outside of London. The most that I can imagine is if we were ever at a stage of having preseason games because that’s probably where we can do trials. The logic behind it, Liz, is a few-fold.

The first thing is, when we first started playing games, everybody in the States pretty much is wary and reticent as an idea. They thought in particular that it would be conventionally disadvantageous for the two teams that would have to come over. I remember the very first time – for the Miami Dolphins/New York Giants game, we had operations folks over and we spent probably around half an hour talking through the differences between a two point plug and a three point plug voltages, because the amount of work that goes in from an op’s perspective in terms of thinking about every single possible eventuality would shock kind of an outsider.

I know that as a non-operations person I was shocked in terms of the size and scale of the operations manual and everything that’s actually involved, in terms of making sure that the size of things that the coaching staff have, is as little a surprise as possible. So in the States invariably when there are teams that are travelling, they will normally, if they’re divisional rivals, travel every single season. If they are non-divisional rivals, they’ll either be every four years or eight years on average. There are some variables there. But you’ll find that teams will stay in the same hotel, have the same routine. The coaches and operations folks are creatures of habit and want to know absolutely for certain what they’re working with. So in many ways, the bravest peoples in the International Series piece will be the first two teams, because they were kind of going into the unknown and really didn’t know what they were getting into.

Once we started having teams that’d come over, then the next teams that we then approach to say, “Would you come over?”, their first protocol was to talk to other teams that had come over before to actually understand what was involved. By being based in London, first of all they have a level of certainty. Secondly, from the point of getting schedules for aeroplanes and for making sure that they can get in and get out as quickly as possible, and I’m assuming that from the operations point of view. I’m not talking about from ownership or the players themselves or others, but in terms of actually knowing what’s involved. The more uncertainty that you add to it, so if we were to suddenly say, “Let’s play Manchester,” I know from what we’ve had to go through in terms of even starting up the Twickenham conversations for this game this year, there’s, everything is brand new again. All of our logistics, all of our advice as to how we go about doing it, the discussions with the police, with security, with airports. We need to be in different hotels and there would be two games that are played at Wembley and so on and so on. You do all of that as we did do in Twickenham, but then you also have to add the additional travel time and other things. So that’s the first step.

But in order, that is the most important there, is kind of picturing to the teams that feel good about the experience, because you want teams to feel good, tell other teams that they should come over because then that gives you a chance to play more games. We’ve always operated on the basis of if we have one team with a bad experience, then we have a real problem trying to get other teams to come over.

The second is financial, so we lose a lot of money. Who’s going to tell you how much? Not myself. We lose a lot of money on each game because the way it’s set up is we pay for the game that doesn’t get played in the States. And then because, if you think about it, a team will have 10 games: 8 regular season and 2 preseason games. The local economy is kind of driven by that. You know, it’s all the concessions and everybody else, they plan each year based on the number of games that they’ll have played, and each game is slightly different in terms of stadium capacity, what’s involved. We have to also offer up the opportunity for some season ticket holders to be able to buy tickets so that they don’t feel like the game has been completely taken from them. And we then pay for the charter and all the costs that are associated, so we’re basically the game promoters. We pay for the hotels, training facilities, everything around the game itself. So no matter how much we charge for tickets, and I understand and appreciate that they’re expensive tickets. They don’t come close to making up the money that we invest because obviously it’s a loss leader. The idea is we build up the popularity of the sport, and sometimes you use the games as an investment in order to grow.

If we go to smaller stadia, which we’d have to go if we took it around the country, then the amount of money that we would lose would be substantially more or we would have to put the prices up to such an extent that fans would be going, “Well, I go to Wembley and I pay x amount for my seat. Why am I going to Manchester or Edinburgh and having to pay 20 or 40% more?” If you were to, for example, play Murrayfield, and I don’t know my facts, but let’s say with our sight lines and everything else you might be able to get an attendance of say 52,000 – 53,000, compared to 85,000 at Wembley. So that’s why I’m saying if we were to ever move games around, it would be more likely if we were given the opportunity to do preseason games, which is not something we’re talking about at the moment.

I can’t think of a situation where, as much as it makes sense from a fan’s perspective, says, “You know, I live in Liverpool, why do I have to travel all the way down to London?” I think my message is you have to unfortunately do that because it’s such a complicated thing to put on the game in the first place. What we’re saying is that our best chances of getting more games on a long run basis is to keep it being based in London. So it’s not being London-centric because we think that London is the centre of the UK and the rest of the UK doesn’t exist. It’s more because the size of the stadia combined with the level of confidence and kind of good feeling that teams and operation staff will have, is probably best placed by being based in a stadia that they already know.

And then the very final piece is logistics. So you’ll have seen last year we played back-to-back games at Wembley. This year we have a Twickenham game and a Wembley game that are back-to-back, and we only have a short window to play our games. So typically it’s between week 4 and week 10 or 11, and that’s because we have to have teams that have bi-weeks. So in the statutes all along, their bi-week is the week after they play the game, which means that you can’t play games in November or December. Therefore logically, you’re driven by stadium availability, so for example with Wembley there’s going to be World Cup qualifying games this coming season. And last year if we’d been playing Twickenham there’s Rugby World Cup and all, so there’s loads of other things that go on, which means that there are only certain weeks where we can play.

If we were to be playing in, say, Cardiff one week and the next week have to be back in London, that also means that we have to shift all of our staff around the country, which just then – we don’t have that much in the way of staff anyway. It’s one of those ones where when you actually look behind the kind of machine of how we operate, you start to better understand why it’s not actually a decision based on geographical preferences. It’s just a logistical sense and making sure that we try and do as good a job as we can.

Liz: Yeah, and I completely understand that. I mean that makes complete sense when you do see it from that point of view. I suppose as fans you only actually see the event on the day as such, if that makes sense.

Alistair: Yeah. Absolutely. And I don’t go around, you know, explaining every single thing that we do or why we do it, so that’s why I wanted to speak to you is because there’s an opportunity to then lay it out there. And as I said at the start, somebody may still say, “But I want to have a game in Glasgow,” and I’ll say, “I respect your opinion, but I can’t see a time where we’ll do that because it will be very difficult for us to do that.” And there’ll be fans in the rest of the Europe going also, “Why aren’t you playing games nearer where I am rather than having to fly in?” 

Liz: Yeah, exactly. That’s it, yeah. Before you know it, the world will want it all.

Alistair: Yeah. True. True. Don’t blame anyone for asking.

Liz: Yeah exactly. So I think one of the next points, I suppose it sort of still applies a little bit to the whole game day, things like the fan rally. I came to the final game last season and there was no fan rally at all, as to what there had been previous years. However, there was a fan forum, which was brilliant. Is there a reason behind why there wasn’t a fan rally on that occasion? Is that going to be the case going forward? Why is it certain things happen for some events but not for other games?

Alistair: Yeah, so this is going to definitely be in the category of you don’t like the answer. But I’ll kind of explain why. There isn’t necessarily a complete science to some of it I’ll admit. It’s not like there’s a complete logic flow, but our starting point when we went to multiple games was that we’d been playing a single game from 2007 through to 2012, so it was a game a year. And when it was a game a year, then it was actually relatively standard. So what we were trying to do was set up a tradition of things, so you have a week of game events, school programs, and community things. We’d host the owners at things like the Houses of Parliament or something like that. Then on the Friday we’d need to do some fun stuff. Then on Saturday do Trafalgar Square, and then on Sunday play the game and have Tailgate beforehand.

And we’d tweak it each year but each year we’d try and make some improvements, but we also wanted to get some form of tradition so that people knew what to expect and how we would actually operate. And that’s probably also mindful for the fact that for those of your fellow fans that have gone to games in the States, they’ll recognise that our stadia over here don’t have car parks of any size. So you can’t actually put on the same kind of experience that you’d have in the U.S., so we actually had to try and create our own tradition of things.

We then went to two games a year for 2013 and it was very much a case of, could we see if we’d actually make it happen? Would two games be successful? And then the following year we went to three games, which is where we’ve been since. Now, from 2018 onwards, we get contractually obliged to play a minimum of four games a year, because we’ll play two at Spurs and two at Wembley, a minimum of two per day. So we know for a fact that from 2018 onwards we’re playing four games a year.

So my starting point is we’re going on this journey, which has grown and become much bigger. As we go to multiple games you then shift from what you do for one game a year, which is let’s do the same kind of approach, because you’re trying to actually show to the teams, particularly the home teams, that each game is different and special. So you’re positioning to the ownership of each team, because what you don’t see behind the scenes is the amount of work involved in trying to convince them, persuade teams to come over because that’s a huge sacrifice for them and not without a lot of logistical things from their side. So we will then go to them and say to each of them, “Your game is special and different, and we will have different theming and different kind of aspects.”

So we’ve started to kind of grow how we go about doing it, so each one is slightly different. So this year we will have Regent Street and it will be around the first game, and that’s partly driven by the fact that that’s when Regent Street is available. So it’s not science; it’s as simple as logistics as to, when can we actually do it? So then we’ll do it like that. When we come to game two, which is at Twickenham where the game day experience will be completely different because it’s a new stadium for us, and we’ll try different things and hopefully some of it will work and some of it, you know, we’ll learn from, but we’ll be listening to the fans. We do research after every single game. We interview 2,000 people from ticket buyers for every single game and go through the game day experience, whether the events and the build up to the week, and we collate all of that and compare it year on year and try and actually understand what elements of what we do works and what people want to see more of. And it’s not always again completely fair for everybody because sometimes, you know, if 67% say they want to see more of this then we’ll probably do more of that. That still suggests that there’s 33% that aren’t that bothered, but you’re still trying to work with some for the feedback, so there’s that.

Then the second piece is we end up putting too much pressure on ourselves because if we’re going to do now four games, which is half a regular season, if we have to put on fan events for every single game and they have to all be of a scale and they all have to be very similar, because I understand when you buy a ticket you don’t know what fan event is going to be there, and from a fan’s perspective you may lose out because you’re actually saying, “I wanted to go to the game with Regent Street and I didn’t know until you mentioned just now which game is going to have Regent Street.” So I understand the concern from it, but the other side of it is, as we move to more games, if we continue to try and do everything at the same scale, then eventually it becomes untenable because you actually have to make sure that absolutely every game has the same element or you do it the other way around, which is you stop doing any fan events because you actually go, “I don’t want to upset anyone, so let’s not do anything.”

So although it doesn’t look particularly fan friendly in terms of, from a positioning point of view, because we’re not saying that specifically, “This is what this game’s about or this is what we’re trying to do.” We’ll test and trial different things and we’ll keep evolving, so I understand concerns about Tailgate experience, for example, being different, that is partly us trying different things and it’s partly licensing authority. I don’t want to be too boring, but licensing authority, getting a certain space and what’s available for us on the day varies from game to game. Or we’ll try things; sometimes it’ll work and sometimes it won’t. You will have seen that there is some games now where we don’t have music acts because we’re starting to get feedback from our research that a lot of the music acts weren’t particularly well received.

Liz: Yeah, I suppose it’s different people, isn’t it, yeah. 

Alistair: Yeah, so in some ways, the way I would position it at least is that it’s because we’re evolving and changing that these things are occurring, and it’s not intended to kind of disadvantage the fan and say that they’re missing out because they went to one game and didn’t go to another game. That’s not our intention. You know, if we were ever to play as many as eight games a year then we would probably be as close to the U.S. model as you can be. If you go to the U.S., as we described before, because they’ve got car parks it’s very much fan-generated, right? The teams themselves don’t do a lot themselves. I don’t mean that in a bad way. That sounded really bad, but all I mean by that is they don’t put on a lot of additional events because they’re not trying to build a community in the same way. So Green Bay Packers know that the Green Bay Packer fans know that their teams are playing. They have their tradition. They’ve been doing it year in, year out with their friends and family, and it becomes organic. With us we’re trying to create our own tradition, but as we increase the number of games, that tradition needs to keep evolving and changing because it can’t be the same eight games a year. Does that make sense?

Liz: Yeah. Yeah, it does actually. Yeah, I think you’re right. If we are going to make this a UK thing, then, yeah, we should absolutely set up our own traditions. We shouldn’t be trying to stick with what they do in America. We are our own country, and, you know, we want to appeal to everybody but at the same time we want to put our own stamp in it. Yeah, I think that makes complete sense.

Alistair: And a lot of fans I know go to things like the Green Man and do their own thing, or they meet up in Central London and increasingly have their own kind of traditions as to how they go about doing it. Our research suggests that people go to games now on average 50 minutes later then they did six years ago, so people’s kind of habits are changing. And once we get that kind of stuff in then that kind of starts changing our way of thinking. So maybe we need to, you know, are people getting complacent or maybe they don’t like to put a value on this? Some people will say, “Okay, well, I’ve seen that. I don’t need to see it again.” One of the reasons why we moved away from Trafalgar Square, which was something that I really like personally, was our research was saying that people were saying, “Yeah, it’s the same thing year in, year out,” and ultimately there’s not really much more in that space that you could do that’s different.

Liz: Yeah, I do see what you mean actually. I’ve been twice, so been for the past two years now but I’ve missed Regent Street every time. I hear all about it. I hear it’s amazing, but I’ve yet to see it myself, whereas obviously I’ve been to Trafalgar Square once, because for the final game last year it wasn’t on. What I did love about that was obviously the player interviews and the interaction and that kind of thing. I think that’s great. I think that’s an opportunity that people wouldn’t, you know, they wouldn’t get to do that every day. Chances are they’ll never get to do that again.

And I think, you know, I thought personally that worked quite well, but obviously that is different for a lot of people. Some people only do come to the game day. Not everyone has the opportunity to be there all weekend. So, yeah, I can see why some people would think that, you know, “It is the same thing. Why should I bother?” It’s a shame people feel that way, but at the same time I do understand why that is.

Alistair: Yeah, absolutely. Now going to the fans forums around the country, I would agree that that’s something we should do more of. Where we have a challenge is something like Kirk Cousins if he only has a two and a half day window to come into the country, and we want him to do media and go to Sky Sports and to a couple of other things, right? Then we end up being, we’re kind of dictated by time. I don’t want to mention about Kirk Cousins because he’s a great guy, but that was the one that you referenced. We’ve tried two or three things in the past. So we had the Vikings go to four cities touring, including Dublin. So we had four or five Vikings posts. That was in the off-season in March where they were able to give up a week of their time, which is unusual.

As you pointed out, Jeff and Neil went round inside the Huddle, and that’s partly because Jeff’s in the country for that length of time because he’s doing the Sky schedules. Where we probably need to do a better job is trying to factor in and ask for more time for some of these guys. So this is again less about this being in London. It’s just more that logistically it makes sense to do it in London. And I fully appreciate that (a) we don’t often announce it early enough for people to make plans or (b), you know, sometimes it’s on a weekday when people are at work, or, again, it’s London and therefore travel may be an issue as well, so I completely empathise.

I think that that’s an absolutely fair point that we need to a better job of that. I think where there is a bit of a challenge for us is trying to work out how far you take it, you know? So if you say that you’re putting it in to an event in Leeds, for example, from a little Londoner perspective then we would probably go, “Well, somebody matched that that’s easier for them to get to,” without recognizing that’s an hour, an hour and a half of their time still. So because that means that you’d be kind of doing Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, then everywhere, so we’ll try and continue to learn from it, but I fully take the point that we need to do a better job of that and that’s certainly an opportunity for us in the future.

Liz: Yeah, I definitely think that’s one to visit. And I went to the event with Jeff and Neil, and it was really good. Even if, for example, in the future it was just Neil, he gives such good insight to the game and, I don’t know, the event for me worked really well. I really enjoyed it and I hope we’ll see more of that kind of thing in the future. Like I say, it doesn’t have to be Neil and Jeff. It could be anyone. I think anyone who’s got a bit of insight into the NFL would give great ideas really. 

Alistair: True, but what I would say is that Neil in particular does a really good job of making it look easy, but it’s not all in terms of content and you want to make sure it’s a good event. And the other thing is we’ve always made the decision, up till now, to make everything free, right? So even though we may not necessarily get it right or put it in the right places or do things the way people would want, Regent Street, Trafalgar Square, fan forums, all the things that we try and do, we recognise that we’re asking for people to spend and support us, whether it’s in pass or Sky subscription or game tickets. So we try to make sure that these are kind of additional touch points so that the fans actually, you know, feel that they’re getting closer to the game, but I understand that maybe we don’t get it quite right from the location or the number of times we do it, but we’re sensitive to it and we’ll try and do a better job.

Liz: Yeah. That’s brilliant. I think if anything us fans, or perhaps it’s just me, we’re just a bit overexcited and we basically want it all, don’t we?

Alistair: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. But there’s nothing wrong with that, right?

Liz: No, definitely not. One of the things that people have mentioned it would be good to have more options when it comes to things like the season ticket options. So, for example, people who can’t attend all three games, whether you would do something for two. What are your thoughts around that in terms of making it easier for fans, making it more affordable generally?

Alistair: Yeah, the challenge that we’ve got, and it becomes even worse now that we’ve got multiple stadia, is the actual back of house ticketing systems. Now that’s going to sound to anyone that doesn’t work in ticketing as a real cop-out, which it’s genuinely not. We tried to look at whether we could offer a two game package for Wembley last year and it just got too difficult to do it. I’m trying to tell you it without boring you, but it’s basically about how we allocate seats and what parts of the stadiums and how that fits in with our season ticket and our single ticket offering. The headline was that we tried to do it and we couldn’t do it.

We’re going to try and see whether we can do that for next year’s games. We still need to kind of get confirmed what towns we’re playing and where, but we’re still doing work on it. I think it’ll be easier, I’m not saying we’ll definitely do it because we need to do some due diligence. I think it will be easier once we’ve got to a stage where we’re playing two games at Wembley and two games at Spurs. Then I think our systems or the ticketing systems that the stadiums operate will allow us because they’ll be two completely different ones.  

So, if you think about it, if you turn it round the other way, when somebody buys a season ticket at the moment, if they were to buy for all three games at Wembley, let’s say, it’s relatively straightforward. You pick your seat and you pick the number of seats that you want, and then you make the transaction. Now that we’re playing two games at Wembley and one at Twickenham, what happens is you pick your seats at Wembley, then you go and pick your seat at Twickenham because it will be a different seat because it’ll be a different stadia, and then you make what looks like one transaction to the fan, but it’s actually two different transactions added together. So the more flexibility we try and add to the system, the more risk it is that we’ll do something wrong by accident. So I will absolutely take it on board and it is something that we’ll continue to work on. It may well be, I don’t know whether we’ll have something in place for the 2017 games, but I would have thought that we’ll be able to have more flexibility for the 2018 games.

Liz: No, that’d be good. I mean, I have to say, the more this conversation goes on, and it does sound like a bit of a logistical nightmare so I don’t envy you on that front.

Alistair: Yeah, but on the other side we don’t ever kind of show behind the curtain anyway, and that’s partly because what we’re trying to do is make sure that everybody has a great time. But as long as, you know, hopefully people that kind of follow you at least have an appreciation that there’s more that goes into it will – they may still disagree with what we’re doing but at least appreciate that we’ve thought about it, even if we didn’t do it.

Liz: Yeah, definitely. No, I get that. I work in marketing events myself, so I completely understand the business element of it, how difficult it is to organise things and, so, yeah, I completely get it from that point. Like you say, some people will never be happy and may not understand it.

Alistair: Yeah, but on the other side it’s not the end of the world for us to have people that want more of our sport, right, because that’s ultimately what we want.

Liz: Of course, yeah. That’s it. Yeah, the more the merrier and the more ideas, the better.

Alistair: Yeah, absolutely.

Liz: Brilliant. And then I suppose moving into kind of the things in terms of NFL motion dice; now, I know this isn’t ultimately you. I know you probably don’t make these decisions. Whether that’s something you can influence is a different story. Now, I had a look at the kitbag store last week in terms of what’s available for females and there were only 29 items on the store at the time. Since posting that piece on my blog, there’s now over 100 items and I’m told this will continue to grow, which is brilliant. So, yeah, so that’s great and I hope to see it will grow, but at least at the moment it does seem that we don’t have as much as America will, and I get that because we could face overstocking and a waste of things. What’s your kind of view on the things that I mentioned?

Alistair: Well, I think probably of all the areas that are developed, obviously merchandise is probably the thing we’re falling short the most. Other people might disagree. They might be, “No, there’s five other things you’re doing wrong,” but I would say that merchandise has been our biggest challenge over the years that we’ve not got right, partly because there’s 32 teams and our fan base is very broad. I mean, the most popular team in the country is New England Patriots, 12%. Dolphins are 9%, and then there’s a bunch kind of between 5 and 8%, and you see that when you listen to a game at Wembley, right? There’s all 32 teams represented and, you know, it’s great that people are passionate about their teams for whatever reason that they’ve adopted those teams.

It makes things very difficult when we talk to our partners on the merchandise side for them to work out how they should build up stock to satisfy that, and to be fair to them they look at it that based on financial risk, which is what happens if we don’t sell it as opposed, so the fan will look upon it in terms of, why can I not buy it? And the merchandise partner will look at it in terms of, what happens if I can’t sell it because then I’ve lost money on it? And I’ve not been able to find a way of trying to bridge that gap. It’s not for the want of trying, because it’s actually a really difficult catch 22 almost.

There’s been some improvements I think on the replicas because people are able to now get their names printed and that allows for blank jerseys to be brought in. When we, you know, say, four years ago or beyond, we were really struggling even with jerseys because you’d have a situation where you’re asking the supplier to buy in a whole load of stock from America and what they would do is buy a player and then that player would retire or get injured, whereas now having that flexibility means that you put your name and number on afterwards. That’s helped that side. So there’s been some improvements, but I don’t think it’s been anywhere kind of close to where we need to get to, and that’s why you see the crazy queues for International games – it’s partly a good thing because it shows people really want to buy stuff, but also probably is a reflection that we haven’t done a great job of satisfying year round because then people are going, “Right, here’s my opportunity to buy stuff.” So I understand that.

It’s one of those ones where we’ll keep needing to work on it and try and encourage people to try more things, so it leaves us a little tricky situation. It’s one of those ones where the suppliers are not wanting to lose money on it for understandable reasons, and the more Tennessee Titans stuff that they buy the more risk that they’re in for, with all due respect to any Titans fans out there. But you know what I mean. But we haven’t done as good a job that I know that the people in charge of the merchandise have got really passionate about it, but it’s, when you’ve got the States, there’s two different things. If you think about it from a shop perspective or a retail perspective, so not online, a retail perspective, if you’re in Philadelphia and you go to a shop, there’s pretty much only Eagles stuff that you’ll find. You won’t be able to find the other 31 jerseys pretty much.

So where you get a lot of flexibility is you get online distribution, but if you’re in the same style you can be based in Philadelphia and say, “I want to get a Houston, Texas whatever,” and because they’re in central warehouses to cover the whole of the States, you’re able to get a lot of flexibility, you’re able to get a lot line items, and then from the shops in Houston they’re able to then satisfy all the Texans fans there, but then if you’re a displaced Texan fan wherever you are still in the country you can get them.

Here we don’t have anything like the size or scale of the warehouse, but it’s partly because the suppliers will say that until there’s the level of demand for it, they won’t put enough in stock, and then you as a fan will go online and actually say, “Well, I’m not buying stuff because there isn’t enough in stock.” And so you just go round and round in circles, go, “I don’t quite know how to break that cycle.”

Liz: And I think this is why people are then going to order it online from America.

Alistair: And then having additional taxes and everything else, which I understand and sympathise. So all I can say, I can’t give you a really good answer. All I can say is we recognise it and it’s an on-going series of conversations, and maybe a little bit like the blank jerseys eventually either technology or warehousing or kind of supply setup will change things. But it’s not going to be an overnight magic thing, but it’s just an area that we haven’t done a brilliant job with.

Liz: Yeah, and, I mean, I guess over time as hopefully the game continues to grow, more teams come over, hopefully that’s something that we will see improve. So fingers crossed.

Alistair: Yeah, and we’re aware that we fall short in that area. That’s the first step, isn’t like? It’s like alcoholism; it’s the first step, recognising your problem.

Liz: Yeah, definitely, and I think that’s the right. I think when you hear what’s going on or what people’s issues are, like you say, it is a chicken egg situation and it is a situation where you’re constantly going round, trying to figure it out but having, you know, the financial risk element of things. So I can see it’s a frustrating process on both a business element and a fan element, so, yeah. But like we say, you guys are aware of it. You do want to try and resolve the issue. It’s just, like you say, something that’s not going to happen overnight and will take a bit of time.

Alistair: Yeah, absolutely.

Liz: Perfect. And then that’s kind of it in the things I wanted to mention. I don’t really have a lot in the way of questions because what you said is pretty straightforward. It’s not really something that is a straightforward answer in some situations. One of the things you mentioned I think around the start of when we’re talking about how much money you guys lose during a game, if you make a loss at the moment, how will that be beneficial if the idea is having a franchise, like how would that work?

Alistair: Oh that would be a completely different business model. So, because if you think about it, what happens is you’ve got 32 teams in the league, 31 different stadia. Around about 80, 81% of all revenue is shared, right? And then the rest of it is local revenue, so, and then there’s a salary cap in place that’s agreed with the Players’ Association. So every team can work out its PNL and then can forecast pretty much how it’s doing financially. The international series are almost kind of exceptional situations because they’re games that should be played in the States, so we’re taking it, so if the majority of the revenue needs to be shared amongst the teams, you can’t change that. So if you want to play a game in London, you have to say, “Okay, that still continues,” because you don’t want the 30 teams that aren’t playing over here to financially suffer. It’s not just the home team and the away team. It’s all the teams, so you keep the business model as it is in the space and then you play a game. It’s the same game but into from a finance point of view, it’s an additional game that you’re doing.

So what we’re doing here is in order to play games and try and grow the sport, we’re actually making sure that the business model that works in the States, which I think is the fundamental core of why the game is successful and why there is parity on the field and why it, you know, any given Sunday and all those kinds of things happen, so what you want to do is make sure that the London games don’t disrupt any of that, which is why they’re loss leaders because we actually have to treat them as additional games that are getting played.

If we were ever in a franchise, then that would be part of a team and they would be sharing all the monies with the rest of the teams in a league, so you wouldn’t have to do that. So this is, and I don’t know whether they’ll have a league for this or not, but you wouldn’t be losing money in the same way if we were in a franchise situation. It’s because these are additional games that need to be treated differently because of the way we construct kind of when we finance this.

Liz: Yeah, that’s understandable. And then, yeah, that’s pretty much it in terms of questions. Anything else is just me being curious. So how big is the team at NFL UK?

Alistair: We’ve got fifteen full-time. We had ten additional people that we have on contracts or people that are running school programs or the community stuff or team liaison people, and then in the season we’ll have seasonal staff of about eight to ten others. So it can be up to about 35 at its busiest time, so, yeah.

Liz: Okay. Well, if you ever decide to move to Manchester, let me know.

Alistair: Well, I have gone to the Etihad Stadium with a tape measure and measured their stadium. It’s not long enough to play a game.

Liz: No, I know. You know, I have actually thought about that and sometimes we hold like Rugby League games at, say, Man United and Etihad, and it’s just a totally different size, isn’t it? There’s just no way the NFL field would even fit.

Alistair: No. That’s what’s kind of interesting about the Spurs stadium experience in that they’re building a stadium where we’ve managed to put our requirements in at the start, right?

Liz: Yeah, you’re very lucky.

Alistair: Because almost every stadium out there has been built for a spectator type of sport, and even things like locker room sizes are just crazy for our guys just because we have 53 players.

Liz: So much. Yeah, of course.

Alistair: Good stuff. Well, pleasure to speak to you Liz. If there’s anything else, drop me an e-mail. I can’t always promise to respond quickly but I will respond.

Liz: No, that’s great. I appreciate it and really appreciate your time today as well. Thank you very much Alistair.

Alistair: Good luck with everything, and are you coming to games this year?

Liz: Yeah, it’s a funny one; for the very, very first game I literally land back from America the day before so I don’t know yet if I’m going to be too jet-lagged, so we’ll see on that one. I’m actually going to see Giants play when I’m in America so I’m going to my first international, well, my first American, real American game. So, yeah, really looking forward to that.

Alistair: Which game’s that? 

Liz: It’s going to be Giants versus Saints.

Alistair: Okay, that’s a good one.

Liz: Yeah, so tickets come out on Thursday so I’m going to try and get those as soon as they are open. But, yeah, I’m hoping to at least come to the second or the third game. I’m going to have to try and buy my tickets some other way because I think they’ve all, well, I don’t think, I know they’ve all sold out. 

Alistair: Yeah, but we’ll have some tickets available I think in September. They usually do. What happens is we have to put tickets up for sale with season ticket holders in the States, and then there’s only I think two times when the season ticket holders have taken the full allocation and we haven’t put anything up for sale, but that should be there. 

Liz: Yeah, that’d be great. Oh and if you’ve got any advice on how I can Tailgate over there, then let me know. 

Alistair: I think you just go with the flow. Just go early. Go early and exploit your accent because people will just love that.

Liz: Yeah. Do you know what, I’ll take advantage of that one.

Alistair: But there you go. Have a good one.

Liz: Oh, well, thank you very much for your time.

Alistair: See you. All the best.

I have to say, it was an absolute pleasure to speak to Alistair, he was incredibly honest about the process they do through, their issues and opportunities. I think what is great is that NFLUK is willing to listen, they’re happy to take comments on board and where possible put them in to action. Alistair, if you’re reading this, genuinely, thanks for your time! 


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