The NFL are coming back, the Rugby League Challenge Cup final is a permanent fixture and last week's announcement of a December 3rd clash at Wembley Stadium between Australia and the Barbarians added Rugby Union to the portfolio of sports staged there since it was officially opened only a year ago. As the travails over its construction and funding recede ever deeper into the public memory the Stadium is earning a reputation as an adaptable and reliable location to hold any outdoor event where in excess of 50,000 spectators are expected to turn up. As the sun shone down into the Stadium bowl during preparations for the recent FA Cup semi-finals, Londonist stood pitchside with Wembley's Head of Music and New Events, Jim Frayling, and looked back with him on a successful year as well as looking ahead to plans for big occasions to come. In upcoming posts you'll hear about Wembley's plans for concerts and track sports, but today the focus is on the oval ball games augmenting the staple diet of soccer.
International Rugby Union was hosted under the Twin Towers, but now you've got it back under the Arch...
We did talk to Wasps last year, but for various reasons the scheduling didn't work. We've got Australia versus the Barbarians coming now, we're ideal for it and we'd love to do more. We've already got Rugby League every year which we know works, not least because you can get really close to the action. Rugby fans like being side-on and the design of Wembley maximises the number of seats that are as close as possible to the pitch, providing comparatively more seats there than behind the goals or posts. That's a signature of HOK who designed the stadium in conjunction with Foster and Partners. HOK also designed the Emirates which has got a similar waves effect at the back of the top tier.
Winning the hosting rights for the first overseas NFL game, particularly ahead of Germany, was a major coup for you...
Yes, although I should point out that the NFL London office effectively bid for the game. The guys there did a lot of the hard work getting the game, then it was up to us to be their number one choice for the stadium. I think the NFL always wanted to try London first. There was a good fan base here even though the UK weren't part of the European league any more. As for ourselves, we always recognise that we're in competition with people, but we're confident of the fact that we've built a really good stadium. You just objectively put across your advantages and you're honest about what you can and can't do. The NFL knew that we had a stadium that was designed to be capable of hosting an NFL game. That was actually a part of the original design brief, which is why we have things like the four changing rooms, which is also good for sports like rugby. We've got 26 and 25 pegs in two different rooms and an indoor warm-up area and just having that space gives you more flexibility. It was massive for us to have the NFL and we're absolutely delighted that they're coming back. We've said to them throughout that we want as many of their events that are on offer as possible.
What's going to be different about the NFL event this year?
We're still at the planning stages, so I don't know exactly what's going to be different, but for instance the squads are coming out earlier because one of the things last year's teams said is that they wish they'd been in London and looked around a bit more. In the run-up to last year's game there was the giant Jason Taylor around London, which was cool, but I expect there will be more events this year because you've got the players around a bit earlier. In the first year I think they were all quite nervous about what it meant for them travelling over. When you're doing something for the first time it's enough to get the game on and do it well. We've got last year to build on now, so hopefully there'll be a few more things that can happen.
Picture courtesy of Herry Lawford.
Our goal is very simple. It's to make it as authentic an NFL experience for everyone as we can, though occasionally you have to balance that with the fact that the majority of people attending are not American. They're European and UK NFL fans, people generally interested in the sport, so you tweak it slightly. The teams said that we're not like a regular season game because the atmosphere around the build-up was more like a post-season game for them. It wasn't quite the Superbowl and it wasn't quite a regular game, there was that level of interest, and the fans here and the atmosphere in the stadium people said was fantastic.
This stadium was designed to have a good atmosphere. We've got acoustic panelling around the place and the seats are very close to the pitch. Unfortunately, it's not designed like an NFL stadium to have that six foot drop by the touchline, so we did have to lose a few rows at either side. In the UK the legislation is that you have to have sight of the near touchline. If you're in row one, you're not going to see the touchline if you've got six-foot eight players in front of you, so we went about ten rows back, but I think this year they might look at that because, being that close to the action and seeing those hits is pretty special. Certainly behind the goals where there are fewer people you might be able to do a bit more.
I think it's brilliant that the Giants came over and then won the Superbowl! They became such a good road team and undoubtedly part of that experience was coming here and how they coped with it. You can't underestimate the importance of that game. Now we've got to build on it and make it even better. There's some pretty amazing things that happen in London on an everyday basis. Yesterday we just had an amazing flypast with the Red Arrows which we were watching from the windows here as they came out towards us. The RAF does that and it gets a few mentions here and there and you get some nice pictures. You have to do a lot to make a splash in London. The NFL being the NFL they're not going to rest on their laurels. They're going to make it even bigger.