NFL Europe

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NFL Europe
NFL Europe.gif
Sport American football
Founded 1995
No. of teams 6
Countries Germany (1995–2007)
Netherlands (1995–2007)
Spain (1995–2003)
United Kingdom (1995–2004)
Ceased 2007
Last champion(s) Hamburg Sea Devils

NFL Europe was an American football league which operated in Europe from 1991 until 2007. Backed by the National Football League (NFL), the largest professional American football league in the United States, it was founded as the World League of American Football (WLAF) to serve as a type of spring league. In 1995, when the league was revamped after a two-year hiatus, the league name was shortened[citation needed] to the World League. In 1998, the league rebranded itself as the NFL Europe League or NFL Europe, which it held for most of the rest of its lifetime. For the league's last season, it would officially change its name to NFL Europa.

At the time of its disbanding, there were six teams in the league: five based in Germany and one in the Netherlands. Players in NFL Europa were predominantly assigned by National Football League teams who wanted these younger, developmental players to get additional game experience and coaching. The expenses of these players and their coaches while living in Europe were assumed by the league.

On 29 June 2007, the NFL announced NFL Europa would immediately cease operations.[1]

History[edit]

World League of American Football (WLAF)[edit]

NFL Europe was founded in 1991 as the World League of American Football. The original WLAF was an American football league partially backed by the National Football League and, like the later NFL Europa, was a spring developmental league. Originally, the ancestor to NFL Europe had 10 teams playing a 10-game regular season: six teams from the United States, three European teams, and one Canadian team. Two additional franchises were initially proposed in Mexico City and Milan, but never formed. The two teams emerging from the WLAF semi-final playoffs met at the end of the season in the World Bowl. The first two World Bowl games were held at predetermined locations much like the modern Super Bowl. The original WLAF was barely noticed in the United States, and only marginally more popular in Europe. Total attendances at the fifty games in each season were between 1.2 and 1.3 million, giving an average game attendance in the mid twenty thousands. The WLAF suspended operations in 1993 prior to the season. The Frankfurt Galaxy was the last WLAF team left in NFL Europe.

NFL Europe[edit]

The National Football League still liked the idea of a spring developmental league, and after revamping itself into an exclusively European circuit, the league re-launched in 1995, consisting of the three existing European teams from the original format as well as three new teams in Amsterdam, Düsseldorf (who competed as Rhein Fire) and Edinburgh (who competed as Scotland). All six teams played in a single division and the 10-game format was preserved. The original playoff format matched the first-half champion against the team with the best overall season record (or the runner-up, in the event the first-half champion also had the best overall record.) The first-half champion would host the championship game. This format was abandoned after the 1997 season. In subsequent years, the two teams with the best overall record after 10 games competed in the World Bowl, to be hosted at a pre-determined site. The change was largely attributed to the play of the eventual 1997 World Bowl champions, the Barcelona Dragons, who secured a World Bowl berth with a 4-1 first-half record and proceeded to rest players and play what some argued was low-intensity football in the second half, finishing with just a 5-5 record and third place overall in the league's standings.

The league was dominated by German-based teams; indeed, during the league's 12-year run a German team would play in every World Bowl. As early as the 1997 season, the league grew concerned that their markets outside of Germany were not living up to their potential. Radical changes were made to the two British teams, spelling the beginning of the end for one. The London Monarchs would become the England Monarchs, switch their colors from blue, gold and red to red, white and black, and play their home games in London, Birmingham and Bristol. The league had been unhappy with the Monarchs as it was, since the field at their London stadium, White Hart Lane, was only 93 yards long—nowhere near enough to hold a full 100 yards and two ten-yard endzones. Also, the Scottish Claymores would divide their schedule between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Then, at a press conference in San Diego, California, during Super Bowl XXXII weekend, the league announced it too would be changing: the league would be rebranded as NFL Europe.

The NFL Europe era was beset by instability. The England Monarchs were shut down after the 1998 season, being replaced by the Berlin Thunder. In 2002, the Barcelona Dragons became an official section of FC Barcelona, adopting the name FC Barcelona Dragons. However, after only one year Barcelona dropped its sponsorship. The NFL was not interested in keeping the franchise alive, and replaced it with the Cologne Centurions for the 2004 season. The Scottish Claymores, one of the 3 teams added to the league in 1995, were also discontinued with their replacements, the Hamburg Sea Devils, being established for the 2005 season. With this change, five of the six teams in the league's final incarnation were from Germany, with one from the Netherlands, leading some of the league's detractors to refer to it as 'NFL Deutschland' or 'NFL Germany'; even speculating that the Admirals were only still in the Netherlands because they had won World Bowl XIII, and it wouldn't look good if the league moved its champions, or simply to justify its "European" identity by keeping one team outside the German borders. German teams, unsurprisingly, won all 7 World Bowl Championships between 1998 and 2004. In 2005 the total attendance at the thirty games was 568,935, and the average attendance of 18,965 was the highest since 1992. On the other hand, TV contracts were canceled as a result of teams moving out of the countries they were based upon, such as the NFLEL deal with satellite TV platform Digital+ in Spain after the demise of the Barcelona Dragons.

In 2006, the league's schedule opened and closed one month earlier than normal because of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which was played at four of the five German stadiums that hosted NFL Europa teams. Only the LTU Arena in Düsseldorf was not chosen to host Cup matches, and that stadium hosted the World Bowl that year.

NFL Europa/Cessation of operations[edit]

The league's final logo

On 11 September 2006, NFL Europe officially re-branded itself as NFL Europa to reflect the name used for Europe in most European languages. Informally, the name "NFL Europe" continued to be used in the United States, including for the league's English-language Web site, nfleurope.com.

On 29 June 2007, NFL officials announced that the league would be disbanded effective immediately,[1] calling the decision a sound business move that will allow for a stronger international focus on regular-season games outside the United States.

The announcement came less than a week after the Hamburg Sea Devils beat the Frankfurt Galaxy 37–28 in World Bowl XV in Frankfurt in front of a crowd of 48,125.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell thanked the fans for their support but said it was time to develop a new international strategy, terming the move to fold NFL Europa the "best business decision." The league reportedly was losing about $30 million a season.

Experimental rules[edit]

The NFL has traditionally used a sudden death format for overtime. Regular season games have a single period of overtime during which the first team to score wins the game. If neither team scores, the game is declared a tie. In post-season games, overtime is extended indefinitely until one team scores. In NFL Europa, however, the overtime period lasted for 10 minutes with the requirement that each team must have the opportunity of possession at least once. So, in NFL Europa, it was possible for one team to score in overtime then have to kick-off to the opponent and give them a chance to either equalize or win the game. The winner was the team with the highest score after both teams had had possession. If the score was even after the second team's possession, the overtime would continue as sudden death. If still tied after 10 minutes, the game ends as a tie. Only two games ever remained tied after overtime in WLAF/NFL Europa history: London Monarchs versus Rhein Fire in Week 4 of the 1992 season, and Berlin Thunder at Hamburg Sea Devils, on 1 April 2006. The score of both games was 17–17.[2] The NFL itself would later use similar rules for overtime possession, but sudden death would still apply if one team scores a touchdown, rather than a field goal, on their first possession.

With association football (or soccer) being the traditionally popular sport in Europe and American football being a relative newcomer, the rules were changed slightly to encourage a greater element of kicking which was intended to make the game more enjoyable for soccer and rugby fans. The league did this by awarding four points to field goals of more than 50 yards, as opposed to three points in the NFL. This had the interesting side-effect that a touchdown and point-after lead (seven points) could be equaled by one regular field goal (three points) along with a long field goal (four points).

Also, there was a requirement that at least one player of non-American extraction, referred to as "national" players, participate in every down for both teams as of the 2006 season (in previous seasons one was required to play only on every down of every other series). In addition to European players a number of Mexican and Japanese players played as national players. Up until the 2004 season, kicked conversion attempts and short field goals were attempted by national players. Since there are few European players who have had the chance to compete at a level comparable to U.S. college football and the NFL, many, if not most, of the European players ended up as kickers.

Notable national players included Scott McCready, an English wide receiver who played some preseason games for the New England Patriots, the Claymores' wide receiver Scott Couper, who played a pre-season game for the Chicago Bears, Constantin Ritzmann, a German defensive end who had played for the University of Tennessee, and Rob Hart, an English rugby player who became a placekicker; he kicked barefoot. Ex-Tottenham Hotspur striker Clive Allen also kicked for the London Monarchs, while fellow footballers Jesús Angoy, Manfred Burgsmüller and Silvio Diliberto kicked for the Barcelona Dragons, Rhein Fire and Amsterdam Admirals respectively.[3]

Uniforms[edit]

The 1995 WLAF relaunch featured uniforms with a significantly different look from what is traditionally associated with American football. Instead of the full-size numbers centred on the front of the jersey, the team logos took precedence, with a smaller number over the right collarbone area.[4] The Monarchs reverted to the traditional look in 1997 and the rest of the league followed a year later.

NFL Europe teams[edit]

Team Active
Amsterdam Admirals 1995–2007
Barcelona Dragons 1991–2003
Berlin Thunder 1999–2007
Cologne Centurions 2004–2007
Frankfurt Galaxy 1991–2007
Hamburg Sea Devils 2005–2007
London Monarchs 1991–1998
Rhein Fire 1995–2007
Scottish Claymores 1995–2004

Attendance[edit]

Team Year 2007 Year 2006 Year 2005 Change 06/07
Frankfurt Galaxy
33,043
28,118
29,377
+ 4,925
Rhein Fire
24,473
22,020
22,532
+ 2,453
Hamburg Sea Devils
20,874
15,082
17,920
+ 5,792
Berlin Thunder
15,710
13,819
16,848
+ 1,891
Cologne Centurions
14,352
13,538
14,238
+ 814
Amsterdam Admirals
11,668
13,421
12,877
- 1,753
Average 20,020 17,666 18,966 + 2,354
Year Games Total Average
World League
1991 50 1,268,066 25,361
1992 50 1,210,817 24,216
1993 -- -- --
1994 -- -- --
1995 30 436,853 14,562
1996 30 516,171 17,206
1997 30 546,433 18,214
NFL Europe
1998 30 499,034 16,634
1999 30 544,844 18,161
2000 30 540,438 18,015
2001 30 557,038 18,568
2002 30 541,546 18,052
2003 30 494,448 16,482
2004 30 477,741 15,925
2005 30 568,935 18,965
2006 30 529,988 17,666
NFL Europa
2007 30 600,600 20,020
15 490 9,332,952 19,047

Stadiums[edit]

Team Stadium Years Used Capacity Opened City
Amsterdam Admirals Amsterdam ArenA 1997–2007 51,859 1996 Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Olympisch Stadion 1995–1996
2000 (one game)
2007 (one game)
31,600 1928
Barcelona Dragons Mini Estadi 2001–2003 15,276 1982 Barcelona, Spain
Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys 1995–2000
1991–1992
56,000 1929
Berlin Thunder Olympiastadion 2003–2007 76,000 1936 Berlin, Germany
F. L. Jahn Sportpark 1999–2002
2006 (one game)
19,500 1951
Cologne Centurions RheinEnergieStadion 2004–2007 50,374 1923 Cologne, Germany
Frankfurt Galaxy Commerzbank-Arena
Waldstadion (1925–2005)
2005–2007
1995–2005
1991–1992
52,000 1925 Frankfurt, Germany
Hamburg Sea Devils AOL Arena 2005–2007 55,989 2000 Hamburg, Germany
London/England Monarchs Ashton Gate 1998 (one game) 21,500 1900 Bristol, England
Alexander Stadium 1998 (one game) 7,600 1976 Birmingham, England
Crystal Palace National Sports Centre 1998 15,500 1964 London, England
Stamford Bridge 1996 (one game)
1997
42,449 1877
White Hart Lane 1995–1996 36,240 1899
Wembley Stadium 1991–1992 80,000 1923
Rhein Fire LTU Arena 2005–2007 51,500 2004 Düsseldorf, Germany
Arena AufSchalke 2003–2004 61,524 2001 Gelsenkirchen, Germany
Rheinstadion 1995–2002 55,900 1926 Düsseldorf, Germany
Scottish Claymores Hampden Park 1998–2000, 2002 (part time),
2001, 2003–2004 (full time)
52,500 1903 Glasgow, Scotland
Murrayfield Stadium 1995–1997 (full time),
1998–2000 (part-time),
2002 (one game)
67,500 1925 Edinburgh, Scotland

Television coverage[edit]

Although the last version of the NFL's developmental league had no U.S. teams, American television coverage continued until the end. From 1995 to 1998, the primary TV carrier was FX, which carried two games a week, one on Saturday and the other on Sunday. From 1999 to 2004, Fox Sports Net showed a "game of the week" on Saturday, with DirecTV viewers receiving additional live games on channels that normally carried NFL Sunday Ticket. In 2005, NFL Network began showing all regular season games, either live or on tape delay, and this continued until the league folded.

From 1995 to 2005, Fox showed the World Bowl and two or three regular season games annually. In 2006 and 2007, NFL Network showed the title game.

Announcers who called NFL Europe games over the years included Curt Menefee, Nick Halling, Ari Wolfe, Troy Aikman, Daryl "Moose" Johnston, Michael Reghi, and Brentson Buckner.

Game broadcasts were also available throughout Europe and in other territories throughout the world.

EuroPass, an offshoot of FieldPass, broadcast Internet video of games, free of charge, in the league's later years.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b "NFL Europa to cease operations". NFL.com. 29 June 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-07-01. Retrieved 2007-06-29. 
  2. ^ Europass: Unusual tie is Thunder's gain NFL.com. Accessed 29 June 2007.
  3. ^ Bandini, Paolo (5 August 2009). "Which football team has the most sponsors' logos on their kit?". theguardian.com (Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 26 September 2013. 
  4. ^ World League of American Football/National Football League Europe Uniforms

See also[edit]

External links[edit]