NFL arrives at Tottenham in next stage of London project

London (AFP) –


The NFL's bid to grow the sport globally takes its next step on Sunday when the Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders clash at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Tottenham opened their £1 billion stadium in April and the Premier League club's north London arena was constructed with their NFL partnership in mind.

Wembley has staged regular season NFL games since 2007, while rugby union's Twickenham was also a host before Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy struck a deal to bring American Football to his new stadium, with at least two games per year for the next 10 seasons.

A retractable astro-turf pitch and separate, NFL-sized locker rooms were built into the plush stadium to ensure the games can be played with minimal disruption to teams who have to fly across the Atlantic.

Chicago's showdown with Oakland in front of a sell-out 60,000 crowd is the first of two games in eight days at the venue, with the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming on October 13 before Wembley hosts two more matches.

"The best things in life are worth waiting for," NFL UK managing director Alistair Kirkwood told the British Press Association.

Cleveland's star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr has already declared the Tottenham locker rooms better than anything in the United States during a summer visit, while Oakland quarterback Derek Carr gushed that it was the best stadium he had ever seen.

"I think when it's in Spurs mode it's a football experience and when it's in NFL mode it's an American football experience," Kirkwood said.

Amid continued talk that the NFL could one day move a franchise to the English capital permanently, the Tottenham experience will offer the league's power-brokers a glimpse of what they can gain from using a purpose-built facility rather than Wembley's soccer-based set-up.

"What we're doing is giving them first-hand experience of how the game looks, what the team experience is like, how the fans react whether it be in a big bowl with 85,000 fans or a more intimate one with 60,000," Kirkwood said.

"If it ends up with a franchise here, we will have a body of work for an owner to make a decision where they would like to play."