AMERICAN FOOTBALL: European look for World Bowl

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The Independent Online

When the original World League of American Football suspended operations in 1992 after just two seasons, there were many who predicted that it would never return.

The league achieved solid results in Europe, where its three franchises - London Monarchs, Frankfurt Galaxy and Barcelona Dragons - played before average crowds of 30,000. However, its seven North American teams failed to satisfy a more demanding domestic audience. More importantly, television ratings in the US were a disaster, and as the league was effectively funded by American-television dollars, its demise was inevitable.

As the new-look league prepares to open for business today, when the Monarchs visit the Galaxy, painful lessons appear to have been learned. This time, the league will operate solely in Europe, where the three original clubs will be joined by the Claymores, the Amsterdam Admirals and the Dsseldorf-based Rhein Fire.

Equally significantly, the key issue of television exposure has been resolved. The World League is now a joint venture between the National Football League and Fox Television, Rupert Murdoch's American broadcasting arm. Given Murdoch's substantial media interests, global coverage of the league seems assured.

"I think we'll build as the season goes along," said Dick Regan, the league's senior vice-president. "There's some scepticism to overcome, because we've been away for a couple of years, but everyone's taking a long-term view of this. There's a realisation that this is going to take time to become established."

The league's goals are different in each market. Average attendances of 20,000 at White Hart Lane for Monarchs games would be considered a success. The figure is greater in Germany, but lower in the new, untested markets of Scotland and the Netherlands.

Each of the six teams will play their rivals on a home and away basis. The team with the best record after the first five games will host the World Bowl against the side with the best record over the second half of the season. The arrangement may not meet with the approval of purists, but makes sound commercial sense, giving fans of all six teams something to look forward to in the latter stages of the season.

Despite the presence of a second UK-based franchise, the gridiron game is unlikely to generate the level of interest achieved when the Monarchs first arrived in 1991. But gains through hype proved to be short-lived. This time, the league is looking to establish firmer foundations, in the belief that the long-term view will yield something more permanent.