The FA Cup final in New York? The Grand National in Paris? Wimbledon in Dubai? They all seem a little far-fetched. However, the prospect of the Super Bowl, America’s showcase sporting event, being hosted in London may not be as bizarre as it first sounds.
Perhaps feeling the pressure from the increased popularity of our football in the USA, the NFL is extremely keen to promote American football internationally — and especially here.
In 2007, the UK’s appetite for American football was tested with one regular season game. Sold out almost instantly, this game’s success led to many more and now, eight years on, the sport is a regular fixture in London’s sporting calendar. Three games are played each year at Wembley Stadium and there are serious, government supported, plans for a permanent NFL team to be based at the stadium. So could a Super Bowl follow?
With Super Bowl XLIX taking place this weekend, we wondered if Wembley would be up to hosting America’s biggest sporting event, so pitted the London stadium against the host venue — the University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona.
Both stadiums were designed by London-based architect Populous (working with Eisenman Architects in the USA and Foster+Partners here). With a capacity of 90,000, Wembley has 18,000 more seats than the University of Phoenix Stadium — clearly enough to host the Super Bowl.
The London stadium is also newer (therefore better, right?), opening in 2007 — a year later than the Arizona stadium, it also cost £400m more to build (also better, right?).
Although Wembley has now hosted 11 NFL games, the University of Phoenix Stadium has significantly more practice at hosting the sport, as it is home to the Arizona Cardinals. (Don’t be confused by the name ‘the University of Phoenix’ — a kind US Open University with no intercollegiate athletics program, it is just the stadium’s corporate sponsor). In total 72 regular season games have been played at the Arizona stadium, and this is its second Super Bowl.
Both stadiums have retractable roofs. However, unlike Wembley’s half-closing roof, the University of Phoenix Stadium’s roof covers the entire playing field. The American stadium also has a pretty spectacular retractable pitch:
Although both stadiums have 47 retail units, Wembley wins on the number of lifts (26 to 10) and escalators (30 to 18) making it comfortably the better stadium.
On a Top Trumps-style face-off, it looks like Wembley is a hands-down winner to host the Super Bowl.
However, there's likely to be some nit-picking traditionalists getting in the way of such a move, so for now if you want to watch the Super Bowl in London you will have to settle for a television. Here's our pick of best places in the capital to catch the game.
By Tom Ravenscroft