The sport is decidedly American, but the popularity of the NFL is global. Nearly every sportsbook around the world offers NFL picks against the spread, and the International Federation of American Football boasts 104 member nations.
The largest of these is Great Britain, with more than 350 teams playing tackle and flag football for adult men and women, university level, and for youth as young as 11-years-old.
The NFL’s popularity in the U.K. is clearly evident by the speed in which the International Series games in London sell out. And looking at the fans in attendance, you can see all 32 NFL teams have fans in the U.K. But just like in America, British fans have their favorites, and they are fiercely loyal.
1. Miami Dolphins
According to an online survey done in the past year, the most popular team in the United Kingdom is the Miami Dolphins. This is also backed up by the Facebook and Twitter traffic that the Dolphins generate in the U.K..
Why is a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since December 30, 2000, and doesn’t appear to be changing that streak this season, so popular?
The NFL first began broadcasting highlights over the air on Channel 4 in the UK in 1982. In 1983 a man named Dan Marino became the quarterback of the Miami Dolphins, and he dominated the weekly highlights.
The very first regular season game played in the U.K. was on October 23, 2007, and it featured the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins have returned for games in London in 2014, 2015, 2017, and the last game played there this season. Miami’s five games played in London is only second to the eight played by Jacksonville.
The Dolphins also played a preseason game in London in 1988 against the 49ers.
2. Chicago Bears
The second most popular team is the Chicago Bears, and again this popularity traces its roots back to the 1980s. The UK began broadcasting the Super Bowl following the 1983 season. But it was Super Bowl XX between the Patriots and Bears that was the first true broadcasting juggernaut, with more than four million Brits tuning in.
Walter Payton, William Perry, and the flashy Jim McMahon, who personified the British view of Americans in the 1980s, were instant celebrities in the U.K. And the Bears became an immediate favorite on U.K. television.
Six months after their Super Bowl win the Bears also played a preseason game in London in the first ever American Bowl.
3. New York Giants
Another successful team from the 1980s is the New York Giants. And while their division rivals, the Cowboys, are more well-known in the U.K., the Giants are the more popular.
New York is the No. 1 most visited American city by U.K. tourists, and that adds to the Giants popularity. But they also played in that very first regular season game at Wembley Stadium, beating the Dolphins, 13-10.
But the Giants popularity this decade traces its origins back to Lawrence Taylor and Bill Parcells.