After leaving Paris and heading to Casablanca, I had two nights to spend in a city of my choice. I eurostepped to London because 1. The NFL London Games and 2. Drake has referenced the city in several songs. I landed at St. Pancras International Train Station on Friday afternoon and had 48 hours to make the most of my first time in London.
I immediately found a pub, or two, or three. Saturday morning, I spent hours walking around Wembley Park and made a stop inside Wembley Stadium – more to come here for sure. I took the tube to explore Borough Market, see the London Bridge, and look at Big Ben and London Eye. And at this point it’s late evening, so I buy another double espresso and contemplate an important decision:
Do I go see the Tower Bridge? OR Do I hit a bar to see if they are showing the (then hyped) Penn State vs Michigan college football game?
If you follow Walk With TFB on Instagram, Y’all know I chose the latter.
I was standing outside the Westminster Tube Station when I Googled “where to watch NCAA football games in London." Immediately, Passyunk Avenue popped up. I remember the website saying something about having to make a reservation, but I did not care – I was ready to take the risk and see I would find at Passyunk. I walked about 0.6 miles with my espresso and when I got the destination, I WAS IN SHOCK!!!
I did not feel like I was in London anymore. Instead, I was at a local Ann Arbor bar broadcasting the Big Noon game of the week on every television and projector. There were at least 100 Michigan fans in this establishment. NCAA college apparel was seen at every table, university flags hanging on the walls, and beer was being poured into pitchers, not pint glasses. I asked one of the staff members if this many people watching NCAA football was normal and they said, “yeah, this is one of the only bars in London that plays NCAA college football games.”
This statement did not hold true for much longer.
On November 17, Sky Sports announced they have secured the rights for NCAA college football games through the end of the 2024-2025 season. Under this deal, fans in the United Kingdom will be able to watch College Game Day, three college football games per week, as well as every bowl game, including the College Football Playoff.
But what is Sky Sports?
Sky Sports is the dominant subscription television sports brand in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Over the last 30 years, Sky Sports has been integral in helping commercialize British sport. Sky Sports is a collection of several British subscription sports channels and is managed by the U.S. American company, Comcast. I refer to Sky Sports as the United Kingdom’s version of ESPN.
What about basketball?
Under this same deal, Sky Sports also secured the rights to broadcast NCAA basketball games during the 2023-2024 season. Similar to NCAA football, Sky Sports will play no more than 3 games per week during the basketball season. This deal includes broadcasting the entire Men's March Madness tournament, including the NCAA Division I championship game that will take place in Glendale, AZ. (Women's March Madness tournament was not mentioned).
It’s important to note that Sky Sports secured marketing rights through an agreement with ESPN, as ESPN holds the NCAA’s international marketing rights. Something to keep in mind as we think about college athletics' internationalization efforts.
So why does this matter?
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, the NCAA is global. This is evidenced in the 25% increase in NCAA international college athlete enrollment since 2020. This is reflected in NCAA membership’s commitment to highlight college athletes competing in the Winter and Summer Olympics every two years. This is also reflected in the NFL and NBA’s financial investment in creating academies dedicated to training and preparing international talent to matriculate into U.S. higher education – Timi Oke the most recent success story.
Sky Sports broadcasting NCAA competition not only augments college sport visibility in the United Kingdom, but also demonstrates that the NCAA product can and will be commercialized in non-U.S. countries. Big 12 Mexico will be icing on the cake.
College football bowl season is near and the men’s college basketball season is in full swing. As NCAA competitions are broadcasted in the United Kingdom and Ireland, international student interest in studying in the U.S. higher education system will certainly increase. You can’t be what you can’t see, right? Youth athletes watching NCAA competitions now have a clear, tangible example of what life as an NCAA athlete could be – expect new international athlete enrollment in all sports from the United Kingdom and Ireland to spike in the next several years.
Few things to consider as we watch this play out:
Name, Image, and Likeness. There is a HUGE opportunity here for F-1 college athletes to engage in NIL monetization activity in the United Kingdom and Ireland. International athletes whose games will be played on Sky Sports network will have the United Kingdom and Ireland’s undivided attention. Local employers and brands who partner with these athletes will see surely witness heightened visibility and conversions. Imagine NFL Academy alumni and U.K. football athletes Timi Oke (Northwestern) or Daniel Akinkunmi (Oklahoma) signing a NIL deal with British Airways and then playing in one of the featured games on Sky Sports. WIN-WIN-WIN.
Fan and community engagement. NCAA member institutions can expand and strengthen their relationships fans in the U.K. and Ireland. Athletic departments who invest in human and financial resources to execute an international content strategy will yield immeasurable ROI in both the short-term and long-term. NFL franchises, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, have modeled this practice extremely well and have a strong Steelers presence in Mexico. I spoke with Maria Jose Rodriguez (Steelers' International Content Manager) to learn more about her work and what this could look like in across NCAA departments.
Education Abroad. Universities in the United Kingdom and Ireland are also looking to attract international students to their respective campuses for short-term and long-term study abroad. There are also opportunities for 1-year master’s and three year PhD programs. During a recent webinar with the ACC, Lucy Pandit (Founder, Athlete Futures Abroad) talked about why U.K. universities are interested in recruiting former NCAA athletes to continue their athletic and academic careers at their respective schools. Lucy also shared that there is a developing focus on recruiting NCAA football players because of the growth of American football in the U.K. Since NCAA competitions will now be televised, I believe universities abroad will become even more fascinated with the NCAA and will heavily invest in recruiting athletes with exhausted eligibility to continue their football careers in the United Kingdom.
This is internationalization and athletics.
Professional sport leagues have an internationalization strategy.
Individual professional sport franchises have an internationalization strategy.
At least one NCAA Conference (Big 12) has an internationalization strategy.
Individual NCAA membership institutions do not have a strategy, yet.
Fortunately, Walk With TFB can help.
We look forward to working with college athletic departments to develop an internationalization strategy that is rooted in justice and aligned with departmental and institutional goals.
If you interested in learning more about our services, schedule a time to connect with us.
Don’t wait. Move first.
It’s happening. We’re walking.