NFL manages to enchant a country that only thinks about other football

Marins is also not a rootless expatriate watching the NFL playoffs in the United States. He is a fan, with a ‘Niners’ shirt and scarf, in a bar in Brazil, the land of Neymar, Ronaldo and Pelé, where another football – American – is booming.

“Three Super Bowls ago, I watched the game with my brother. Two Super Bowls ago, with my brother, my girlfriend and some friends. Today, I’m watching it with all these people,” says Marins, 28, looking around the packed venue in Rio de Janeiro, whose four giant screens show San Francisco’s playoff game against the Green Bay Packers.

American football, he says, is “growing before our eyes” in Brazil, where millions of people are expected to watch the 49ers play in the Super Bowl on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs (Taylor Swift’s boyfriend’s team, for those not initiated).

“Maybe I’m one of the crazy people who make it grow. I scream, I make noise… I like to seduce everyone I know to love American football,” adds Marins, who chose the ‘Niners’ as a team because he loved it. He liked his former quarterback, black rights activist Colin Kaepernick.

Key market

With 203 million inhabitants, Brazil is now the NFL’s second-largest international market, after Mexico.

It has 38 million fans, more than 20% of them “avid followers,” according to a study commissioned by the league. In 2015, there were only three million.

And the league returns the love: next season it will celebrate its first game in Brazil. Sao Paulo will become the first South American city to host a game and will join London and Munich on the NFL’s international calendar.

The Philadelphia Eagles will play their first game of the season, against a team to be decided, on September 6 at the Neo Química Arena, home of Corinthians, Brazil’s second most popular soccer club.

Marins’ twin brother, Caio, another great fan, says he has already booked his vacation to travel to Sao Paulo: “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Mr. Gisele Bundchen

But how did American football, considered impossible to understand in much of the world, gain followers in the country of “sport king”?

Pedro Rego Monteiro, executive director of the NFL marketing agency in Brazil, Effect Sportoffers several arguments.

Among these: Brazilians love American culture and Super Bowl commercials; The playoffs coincide with the Brazilian soccer league’s timeout; and the NFL’s marketing work.

Then there is the impact of the man long known in Brazil as “Mr Gisele Bundchen”: legendary quarterback Tom Brady, owner of the record seven Super Bowl rings and ex-husband of the Brazilian model.

Due in large part to Bundchen, enthusiasm for Brady and his top team, the New England Patriots, “grew absurdly” in Brazil, Monteiro says.

Exodus of footballers

Cristiane Kajiwara, president of the Brazilian American Football Confederation (CBFA), has another explanation: the exodus of Brazil’s top football stars to more lucrative leagues abroad.

“This has paved the way for others sports“, he explains to AFP. Furthermore, more and more Brazilians are learning to play American football.

While training in the rain with a helmet and pads with his amateur team, Rio Football Academy, linebacker Gabriel Stutz says he would love to have the opportunity to play professionally in Brazil.

“It’s every child’s dream,” says the 24-year-old army lieutenant and psychology student.

In Brazil there are about 300 American football teams, between traditional and flag football. The CBFA, founded in 2000, organizes regional and national championships.

The inclusion of flag football in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games has further boosted the sportsays Kajiwara.

The Brazilian women’s team in that modality occupies fourth place in the world rankings. But there is realism about the magnitude of the boom.

“Are we going to one day have more Brazilian fans of the NFL than of soccer? Probably not,” says Monteiro.