In recent years, a lot of work has gone into promoting the NFL across the planet. One of the countries where there are high hopes of American football taking hold is Spain. How are the attempts to make it go mainstream here progressing? Will American football in Spain ever be a major cultural contributor?
This is a vast country of sports lovers. With a population of around 47 million, it is the 30th biggest country on Earth. The people here love to watch sports, and their athletes are among the very best in the world. In fact, it has been suggested that the country is going through a golden age in terms of sporting success.
Spanish soccer teams Real Madrid and Barcelona are among the best teams in their sport. Rafael Nadal is a tennis legend and Spanish athletes regularly come home from the Olympics with an impressive number of medals. Spain is a leading force in most major sports these days.
Therefore, it is easy to imagine Spain becoming a force in American football as well. With a big population of keen athletes and sports fans, this place could become a genuinely big name in the sport over time. Could the introduction of Spanish players be one of the Super Bowl trends to look out for?
A couple of Spanish players have recently made the breakthrough into NFL teams. Jose Joaquin Arcega-Whiteside was drafted by Philadelphia Eagles in the 2019 draft. The Zaragoza-born wide receiver moved to the US when he was just six years old and played his college football at Stanford University.
Another successful Spaniard is Alejandro Villanueva, who plays left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers, an offensive player who puts the best defenses in the NFL under warning. He was born in a naval base in the US to Spanish parents and grew up between Spain, Belgium, and the US. Villanueva admits that gaining extra weight is one thing he doesn’t like about playing in the NFL.
Prior to those two players, the only other Spanish NFL players had been brothers Jess and Kelly Rodriguez. However, this came way back in the 1920s. Therefore, the emergence of Arcega-Whiteside and Villanueva has ended a period of close to a century with no Spaniards playing pro football in the top league.
Not everyone is aware that there is a version of the NFL currently played in Spain. This is called the Liga Nacional de Fútbol Americano and is known as the LNFA. It was initially formed in 1995, taking over from the previous football competitions at the time.
The league is currently divided into three leagues, known as Serie A, Serie B, and Serie C. The top league has six teams, while there are ten in the two conferences that make up Serie B.
The top two teams used to get to play in the European Football League. The next two were invited for the EFAF Cup. Surprisingly, Spain never won any of these continental titles. Teams from Germany and Austria have traditionally dominated both of these events.
However, there is clearly a lot of potential here. The next step for Spanish teams is to break into the BIG6 European Football League. Despite the name, this league currently features just four teams, from the Netherlands, Germany, and France.
Badalona Dracs had a single season in this league, in 2017. This is the country’s most successful team, with ten national titles and they have just won their sixth national cup. They are arguably the team that is best placed to go on and achieve international success.
This sport has a solid base in Spain, with some very good teams and players. Will it go mainstream in the future? This probably depends upon the success achieved from now on by individual teams and players.