In the aftermath of the gridiron exhibition taking place down under, what should fans make of it all? Is this a sign of things to come or will followers of the sport have to wait another 30 years to get a taste of the action?
61,247 fans experiencing a College game on a Saturday is no mean feat. Clashing with children’s sport at an unaccustomed 12pm timeslot and factoring in the location 30 minutes out of the city at Homebush, local Sydneysiders would have been forgiven for giving the Sydney Cup a miss. But they didn’t.
The 51-31 result in favour of the Cal Bears over the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors was purely academic – this was about the event to give Australians a taste for American football. Complete with giant hot dogs, marching bands, cheerleaders, fireworks, grand entrances and a rendition of the US national anthem, West Sydney felt like it’s own little pocket of California for a few precious hours on the weekend.
Sydney Morning Herald journalist Kim Arlington tapped into the vibe of the afternoon, if only the patrons could do the same for the liquor! True to form, the biggest gripe of the day was running out of booze by the time the second half got underway to damage Australia’s reputation on the international stage when it came to our love of beer. People queued for hours on end only to find their patience would ultimately be unrewarded.
This faux pas did illustrate an underlying issue, as a healthy portion of the 61,000+ fans were struggling to remain engaged in the contest. Many would have attended either for the novelty factor, out of simple curiosity or as casual NFL fan but the feverishness and enthusiasm for the match itself did waver, as was evident by the never ending Mexican wave that ensued for laps on end.
— Emily Van Buskirk (@Emilnem) August 27, 2016
For those that understand the intricacies of the Sydney sporting market however, getting patrons just to turn up is an achievement in itself. Franchises across the NRL, AFL, A-League and Super Rugby will regularly point to bad weather or good weather (yes – even good beach weather is an excuse apparently) for a lack of attention and the numbers through the gate does point to a genuine appetite for the sport.
With #CollegeFootballSyd trending top in Australia during the game, fans were treated to seeing Warriors running back Khalfani Muhammad put on a master class of elusive running and soft hands to keep his side competitive. Bears QB Davis Webb left no one in doubt as to his potential and with Chad Hansen in his corner, California showed off enough of their offensive arsenal to keep the scoreboard attendant busy over four quarters.
The build up over the week gave a different dimension to the spectacle and kept the sport in the headlines. Former Seattle Seahawks legend Marshawn Lynch developed ties with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, ex-Balmain Tigers great Paul Sironon rekindled his time with the Warriors and locals got an insight into “the other” Haka from the Hawaii natives.
If this is merely a window into the opportunities American football can forge with the Australian market, then the boundaries are limitless. The time zone is friendly, the desire to witness a sporting spectacle is well and truly there and the people involved spoke with glowing praise about the experiment bringing the sport to Sydney.
Whilst the talent and resources at College level is unparalleled for second/third tier athletes, imagine how quickly the tickets will be snapped up for an NFL fixture in Sydney or Melbourne? Flying down the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots or New York Jets would ramp up the excitement ten-fold, a tantilising proposition given the brilliant reception provided to the students from California and Hawaii this past week.
Pac-12 Announcement Adds To Momentum
To make sure this fixture would not be a flash in the pan, news leaked in the second quarter that Fox Sports and Pac-12 had reached an agreement to broadcast 13 College football and 21 College basketball games annually. The matches will be shown on Pac-12’s “The Drive” network that will begin as of September 3rd this year.
Commissioner Larry Scott said, “We are excited to bring the best of Pac-12 football and basketball to the sports fans in Australia. As our universities continue to operate in an ever-changing globalised world, we see great value in distributing our content globally as a way to showcase our academic and athletic excellence.”