Alistair Kirkwood will step down as managing director of NFL UK on March 31, concluding a two-decade NFL career in which the league has become an established part of the British sporting landscape.
Kirkwood joined the league in 2000 and has played a pivotal role in bringing 28 regular-season NFL games to London, achieving a multi-fold increase in the sport’s fan base and television viewership, and building the NFL’s commercial portfolio and community profile.
“In many ways, this has been a labour of love,” said Kirkwood, who originally joined the NFL in a dual role of overseeing the league’s business in the UK and as head of strategy for the NFL Europe League. “I feel blessed to have worked on something that I feel so passionate about for such a lengthy period.”
As head of the NFL’s UK office, Kirkwood has overseen all commercial and business operations, including the staging of London Games, which began with a single game at Wembley Stadium in 2007. There have now been 28 games played in London at three different stadiums, including the NFL’s first purpose-built home outside of the US at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which hosted its first two games in 2019. A total of 31 of the NFL’s 32 teams have now played in London.
Under Kirkwood’s guidance, the NFL has achieved consistent growth and now has more than 13m fans in the UK and is watched by more than 20m unique television viewers per season.
NFL executive vice president-chief strategy & growth officer Christopher Halpin said: “The NFL family deeply appreciates Alistair’s commitment and contributions to NFL UK over two decades. He should be proud of his achievements and the massive strides made in the UK under his leadership. His vision and passion have helped the sport achieve extraordinary growth in one of our core markets, and we look forward to building on that momentum.”
Kirkwood was the driving force behind the International Player Pathway programme, which identifies international athletes for intensive training before being placed on NFL team practice squads. The programme has been responsible for the UK’s Efe Obada (Carolina Panthers), Australia’s Jordan Mailata (Philadelphia Eagles) and Germany’s Jakob Johnson (New England Patriots) becoming key contributors on their respective teams.
During Kirkwood’s tenure, NFLUK has achieved record commercial revenue through sponsorship, consumer products and subscriptions to the Game Pass streaming service, while earning renown for award-winning fan events in Regent Street, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly and a touring series of NFLUK Live theatre-style events, which have created touchpoints for fans in all corners of the UK.
Meanwhile, the NFL’s community presence in the UK has seen the introduction of a Flag Football programme that now reaches more than 20,000 young boys and girls every year and the establishment of the ground-breaking NFL Academy, based at Barnet and Southgate College, which offers a combination of education and American football to provide life-changing opportunities to student-athletes aged 16-19.
Kirkwood continued: “Every time we have tried something new – whether it was playing games in the UK, or taking fan events on the road around the country, or introducing new participation programmes into local communities – the response has been amazing.
“It has been important to demonstrate our commitment to CSR and social programmes and I am very proud that, even though the NFL might originally have been a predominantly imported sport, we have a strong ethos of giving back to the UK community. An emphasis on education and character development has seen positive outcomes for many people.”
The NFL’s UK business is now being led by Brett Gosper, who has joined the league as head of UK and Europe after a nine-year stint as chief executive of World Rugby.
“I am honoured to be taking over from Alistair and hope to build on his incredible achievements of the past two decades,” Gosper said. “Working with an impressive and ambitious team at the NFL I am looking forward to driving the League towards even greater fan growth in the UK and Europe.”
Kirkwood added: “I strongly believe that we’ve only scratched the surface of the potential of the NFL in this market and am confident that Brett and his team will take it to even higher levels in the coming years.”
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