Why 800,000 fans vied to see Tom Brady, Bucs face Seahawks in Germany

MUNICH — For 45-year-old Markus Jantke, there was no way he was going to miss an opportunity to witness the NFL’s first regular-season game played in Germany.

Not after being a fan since the 1980s, long before NFL games were televised on a weekly basis and long before most of his friends and fellow countrymen had any clue about the sport he’d grown to love despite being 5,000 miles away.

The day tickets went on sale to the general public in July, he happened to be driving to Munich and pulled over to a rest stop to join the queue.

“After half an hour of waiting and No. 400,000 on the waiting list, I quit and go on to Munich,” Jantke said. “Twenty minutes later, I got a call from a friend. She asked if I wanted to go the game with her. … Ten minutes later, another guy called me, ‘Markus I got four tickets!'”

Mark Van den Eeckhout logged onto the site on five different devices — two cell phones, two iPads and a notebook. The best spot he could get in line was 254,000. But one of his buddies got No. 3,500, and he ordered tickets.

Seven of them will make the trip from Paderborn, Germany, a small village near Cologne, to witness quarterback Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday (9:30 a.m. ET, NFL Network) at Allianz Arena in Munich.

“[We] look forward to the game like little children,” said Van den Eeckhout, who has been an NFL fan since he was 13 or 14 years old. “But to be honest, I have no idea how I’ll react when the GOAT [Brady] and the Bucs run onto the field!”

Oliver Robbet, whose football interest began with the movie “Any Given Sunday” and who will make the trip from Halstenbek, Germany, logged on to the Ticketmaster site on six different devices.

“We got a place in the queue around place 4,000 and just got tickets on the top of the stadium,” Robbet said. “A lot of people were pissed because of the secondary market. They used bots to get tickets and sold them directly for horrible pricing.”

THE TICKET DEMAND was extraordinary.

“We saw huge queues in the ticketing queue of around 800,000 people,” said Brett Gosper, head of NFL Europe and U.K. “The fans are absolutely over the moon about it.”

The fact that Brady came out of retirement after 40 days in March had something to do with it, and the game will be played at the home of FC Bayern Munich, Germany’s most successful soccer team. The NFL received special permission to play on the natural grass.

“I think the game would’ve always been highly subscribed, highly sought after,” Gosper said. “It’s a historic game — whoever’s in it — but obviously he puts a lot of icing on that cake, Tom Brady, by his own presence, and everyone in Germany knows who Tom Brady is.

“Tom transcends the sport. So anyone who does that pulls in audience from outside of your avid traditional fan and creates new fandom, and he’s done that brilliantly.”

Not to mention, the NFC West-leading Seahawks (6-3) are one of the best stories in the NFL right now, having won four out of their past five games with quarterback Geno Smith taking over for Russell Wilson after he was traded in the offseason.

As of Tuesday, the cheapest single ticket on StubHub in the southeast corner of the stadium that holds about 70,000 fans was $351, although prices were higher this summer. For two seats together, prices started at $395 each.

For those who can’t make the trip to Munich, Deutsche Bank Park (Commerzbank Arena) in Frankfurt, Germany — which will host its first NFL game in 2023 — is holding a live watch party.

IT’S VERY DIFFERENT from what the NFL saw when it hosted its first American Bowl — a series of NFL exhibition games that were held outside of the U.S. — in Germany. The game took place in West Berlin on Aug. 11, 1990 — nine months after the Berlin Wall fell.

Organizers had to give tickets away — mainly to those who had little exposure to not only American football but the Western world, and did not even understand the rules.

“Most people did not know the sport at all,” said Martin Hanselmann, who most recently coached the Stuttgart Surge of the European League of Football.

Fast forward to today, and there is not only a generation of NFL fans in Germany, but multiple generations of fans. Gosper said Germany, which started showing games on TV on a weekly basis in 2015, is the highest-subscribed fan base outside of the U.S. on the NFL GamePass streaming platform, even more than the U.K. despite London hosting 33 regular-season NFL games since 2007.

“It’s a huge market,” Gosper said of Germany. “Casual fans are growing at the rate of about 20% in the last four, five years. But the avid fans have grown between 40 and 50% over the last four to five years.”

Rob Donner, who will attend the game from Solingen, Germany, stays up to watch games despite being six time zones away from the United States’ East Coast.

“I watch all Bucs games live,” said Donner, who became an NFL and Bucs fan in 1999. “These can be at 2:20 a.m. in the middle of the week. I always save some vacation days for these games so that I don´t have to go to work the same day.”

He stayed up for Week 9 as the Bucs came from behind to defeat the Los Angeles Rams 16-13. Brady and the offense marched down the field in the final minute, with Brady capping a 60-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Cade Otton with 9 seconds remaining.

Donner tried not to disturb his girlfriend, who was sleeping when the Bucs scored at 1:25 a.m. local time. But the magnitude of the moment — the Bucs (4-5) snapping a three-game losing streak and Brady defeating the Rams for the first time in four tries — was too much.

“I was going crazy,” Donner said. “My dog was really confused when I start running around the living room. Then my girlfriend woke up and celebrated with me.”

There was a similar scene inside Ned Kelly’s Australian Bar in Munich.

“We all saw Tom Brady being Tom Brady and getting that last amazing touchdown,” said the bar’s manager, Alistair Taylor. “There was a huge cheer and a lot of clapping when it happened!”

NFL SUNDAYS ARE always played in prime time in Germany.

Harit “Harry” Khanna, owner of The Keg in Munich, usually has three TVs and two projector screens ready to go, although sometimes it’s as many as all eight televisions.

“We stay open until the people stop watching!” Khanna said. “Wings Night is on Sundays because of the NFL.”

Ned Kelly’s has struck a similar tune, advertising the “complete USA experience,” with wings, hot dogs, nachos and fries.

“Demand has definitely grown over the six or so years, partly because it’s become a mainstay of peoples’ weeks,” said Taylor, who is a Seahawks fan. He said he has customers who have had reservations for months leading up to this week’s game.

Those bars usually close about 2 or 2:30 a.m., although Super Bowl Sunday is a different story and becomes an all-night affair.

“Every Super Bowl game is an experience in Germany,” Robbet said. “It starts always late and mostly is not over before 3, 4 a.m., so the next day everybody has to work. And you always see who watched the game.”

Van den Eeckhout’s girlfriend and friends still won’t let him live down the fact that he went to bed at the beginning of the fourth quarter watching Super Bowl LI with Brady and the New England Patriots down 28-9 to the Atlanta Falcons. Brady went on to lead the largest Super Bowl comeback in NFL history after trailing 28-3 in the third quarter.

“To be honest, I’m not proud of it,” Van den Eeckhout said. “Everyone has laughed at me since this Super Bowl, always asking if I want to go to bed if a team is high in the lead. And my girlfriend laughs the loudest. I will never leave a game again before the final whistle.”

THE U.S. MILITARY had a strong influence in spreading American football in Germany. About 100,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed in Europe, with 35,000 of them spread across 40 active military installations in Germany.

“I think the real question [for the NFL] is, ‘Why weren’t you in Germany earlier?'” Gosper said. “Because it’s a significant European market. In many ways, it has a larger casual fan base than in the U.K. It has a great history of American football.”

Hanselmann was first exposed to American football in 1982 at age 18 when locals started a team in his hometown of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, about 14 miles from Illesheim — home of a U.S. Army facility.

“The American soldiers had an important impact on this,” said Hanselmann, who credits former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana for inspiring him to play football for over 10 years before becoming a coach. “We had some books through the Army base and learned a lot from the U.S. players.”

Hanselmann got to shadow members of the Buffalo Bills’ coaching staff when they played the Minnesota Vikings in the American Bowl in August 1993 before the last one was played in 1994.

“We all were very impressed by all the athletes there,” Hanselmann said. “I also remember that … Rocket Ismail played for the Vikings, and during the practices I was able to see him. His speed at this time was unbelievable.”

SOME HOME COOKING will be in order for Seahawks linebacker Aaron Donkor.

He is from Achern, Germany, and joined the NFL when he was assigned to Seattle’s practice squad as part of the International Player Pathway Program.

He grew up playing basketball but started playing football when he was older, which led to playing college football at the New Mexico Military Institute and Arkansas State.

Naturally, he knows how welcoming his home country will be as a first-time regular-season host.

“The Germans, they’re going to do their thing,” Donkor said. “They’re great hosts. They’ve been preparing the one thing they can — like just organizing and making sure everything is set up. … It’s going to be a Super Bowl in every sense of the word.”

Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans, who won a Super Bowl with the Bucs in 2020, knows what it’ll be like to compete in that kind of environment.

“Hopefully we put on a good show,” Evans said.

But no matter how great the show is, Donkor knows how important Germany is for the growth of football internationally, especially in Europe.

“The Germans are at the forefront of American football,” Donkor said. “They really embraced the game. I think after World War II and the stations, from there, they brought the sports, they brought the culture and they never really left. And it was just lingering there. And I think now that the Germany game is there … that this just comes all together and people can really embrace the game. I’m excited for that.”

WHILE INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL across the Atlantic and quickly adjusting to new time zones isn’t the most fun, players like Evans welcomed the opportunity to connect with fans from another part of the world and bring the “brand of football to the fans that are just waiting for us to go over there and play.”

“I’ve gotten fan mail over the years from people in Germany, so I think it’s really cool to be able to go to their country and play a regular-season game in front of them because obviously they’re not able to come here all the time or see us play,” cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting added. “So it’s definitely a cool experience for us, and I know it is for them as well.”

Right tackle Tristan Wirfs was concerned he wouldn’t be able to find any cold weather clothing in size XXXXL, while defensive tackle Vita Vea seemed to be motivated by the cuisine.

“Man, I’m ’bout to eat schnitzel, pretzels, hot dogs … whatever,” Vea said.

The NFL committed to five games for its international series this year — three games in London, one in Germany and one in Mexico. NFL owners also passed a resolution that says beginning in 2022, all 32 teams will play internationally at least once every eight years.

And while their approach will always be quality over quantity, they are eyeing other markets, keying on stadiums that can accommodate at least 70,000 fans.

“You never know when there might be a stadium issue in one of those countries,” Gosper said. “You never know when a team outside of that rotation may say, ‘We really want to push the Spanish market or the French market’ or whatever. But we do a review of those stadiums and core markets over the next coming years to see what their availability of viability is.

“So we’re not sure where’s next, but we’re sort of keeping an eye on places like Spain, like France, like Brazil, Canada, etc.”

This content was originally published here.

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