Henry Hodgson: Building a ‘literal foundation’ for the NFL in the UK

As the league gains more and more attention each season in the UK, talk of a British NFL franchise has been a major focus point for some time now.

While a team representing London or the UK as a whole is not a near-term possibility just yet, this has not stopped the US’ biggest sports tournament from establishing a foothold in the country in the form of the annual Twickenham fixtures and the NFL Foundation.

NFL UK General Manager Henry Hodgson spoke to Insider Sport about the NFL Foundation’s expansion into Birmingham and Greater Manchester, explaining that ‘for a franchise to be in the UK, the most important thing is for there be a literal foundation for that franchise to grow off-of’.

To have the NFL Foundation making efforts to improve young people’s lives, the NFL can create new fans of the sport among British audiences, potentially paving the way for more ‘the ultimate goal’ of a UK franchise.

Having been launched in 2021 in partnership with the Mayor of London, the NLF Foundation now aims to broaden its reach by introducing more young people to flag football, expanding the popularity of the league with it.

“We managed to find eight community groups across London to help work with us to deliver those flag football programmes and so far have engaged more than 2,500 young people across the capital, which I think is a tremendous achievement,” Hodgson said.

“We’re also really proud of the fact that it’s really a good cross section of underrepresented people 75% from a diverse ethnic background, and about 58% of the participants are female.

“We’re reaching a really interesting audience who maybe aren’t as easily reached by these types of programmes for other sports.”

After building up a solid base in the capital, the NFL has now moved forward with an expansion of the foundation to Birmingham and Manchester. 

This is an unsurprising choice given the large populations and sporting heritage of both cities, with Hodgson noting that the two regions represent an opportunity to maximise the Foundation’s reach across England.

“The more kids we can get playing football, the more likely it is that we’re going to reach that audience and that they’re going to become followers of the sport over the long term. 

“It sits very closely alongside a lot of the other strategies we have to grow the sport in the UK, but certainly a very crucial one. I think, in this case, it has the benefit of being able to leave really positive impacts with the kids that we’re reaching.”

Whilst a UK franchise may not be on the horizon just yet, Hodgson was keen to reiterate that the activities of the NFL foundation mean that we can only expect the League’s visibility in the UK to grow over the coming years.

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