A new type of ‘football’ scores big in Germany: how an OHIO partnership is helping amplify the American sport overseas

In Europe, traditional football (soccer in the United States) has long reigned supreme. Yet, American football is gaining traction, especially in Germany.

Samantha Pelham | January 17, 2024


In Europe, traditional football (soccer in the United States) has long reigned supreme. Yet, American football is gaining traction, especially in Germany. This surge in popularity follows the NFL's introduction of games in the country, sparking an innovative collaboration between Ohio University and the University of Bayreuth.

“Sports are becoming more and more global given the access that is available to watch and participate in them now,” Dave Ridpath, a professor of sports business at OHIO, said. “Even at the summit, we talked about how accessible it would be to get a permanent spot for football on a Sunday morning slot due to the time zones – the opportunities are there and we can make them a reality.”

The football summit, conceived by Ridpath and University of Bayreuth's Dr. Tim Stroebel and Dr. Markus Seufert, aimed to leverage the congregation of sports experts and leaders in Germany prior to the games to offer an educational and informative event. 

“The summit was a big success in Germany and for the University of Bayreuth,” Stroebel, who teaches sport management and marketing, said. “It was a small idea that turned into a major event. We had a diverse audience made up of local students and faculty but also interested people from outside both the University and region. People here are interested in American football and we as a University are thinking about ways to help develop that interest and engagement.”

Football Summit photo 1

Over 400 people gather at the University of Bayreuth to participate in the first annual football summit.

Held the Thursday prior to the Kansas City Chiefs vs. Miami Dolphins game on Saturday in Frankfurt, over 400 people attended the summit either in person or virtually, including former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, as well as political dignitaries, representatives from the German and American football league, coaches, administrators and more.

The summit featured panels on the history of NFL games in Germany, the benefits of hosting games in Europe, and the potential for a permanent franchise, among other topics such as the difference between soccer and American football in terms of what is more family-friendly and entertaining.

“What I found interesting is how American football has much more of an entertainment focus and offers experiences besides what’s happening on the field like tailgates, parties and traditions,” Stroebel explained. “More groups of people and families can come together to participate.”

In addition to the various discussions, there was a skills station teaching people about different skills in football, a local German football team taught people the nuances of the game, and many more activities that engaged those who attended. Even American soldiers stationed in Germany were able to come up from their base to participate and share their love for the NFL. 

“It was apparent the passion for American football over there,” Ridpath added.

Football summit Donna Kelce

Dave Ridpath (center) poses with fellow Bobcats Donna Kelce (left) and Myrna Fisher (right).

The summit really showcased the interest and potential for having a more permanent and prominent franchise in Europe. It also allowed for experts in the industry, such as Ridpath, to gain new insights on sports from a global perspective and network with other leaders in the industry. The night before the game, Ridpath attended an NFL Europe reunion that former President of NFL Europe Oliver Luck hosted, with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and his mom, OHIO alum Donna Kelce, along with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell all in attendance.

“It was incredible to not only watch an entertaining game, but see how it’s done in another country,” Ridpath said. “The games were played in a soccer stadium that was flipped and turned into an American football stadium, so I’m there focusing on everything else but the game at points. Looking at how the seating is set up, how they were able to transform this stadium, parking, concessions, how the screens in the stadium are working – they did a fantastic job in every aspect.”

Because of the response from the summit, Stroebel believes they have helped create an American Football network in Germany, connecting various stakeholders from local American football teams with politicians, interested community members, experts and administrators, as well as students from their own university who can greatly benefit from these types of connections. 

“The summit came at a perfect time and is a good expression of where we are currently at in the context of interest in American football - we’re at a summit,” Stroebel explained. “More and more people are becoming interested and it’s only growing. This is not just a trending topic in the media, it has longevity to it and we at the University, along with our counterparts at OHIO, have the ability to research and analyze more about its impact.”

Football summit photo 3

OHIO's Dave Ridpath poses with former NFL Europe President Oliver Luck at the University of Bayreuth.

OHIO and the University of Bayreuth have been partnering to exchange ideas since 2006, flourishing through global consulting workshops with Adidas and faculty exchanges, in which Stroebel and Ridpath participated. 

“I think the professor exchange was a brilliant way to show each other’s universities what our own respective institution was doing,” Stroebel said. “I was able to share my insights and perspectives here in Athens and Dave was bringing his knowledge to Bayreuth. That’s what an exchange is all about, sharing your insights and learning from others in the hope you can leave them with something but also take something back to where you’re from.”

“Our partnership with the University of Bayreuth is extremely valuable to students from both Universities and I am grateful to be able to go back and work in a location dear to me with individuals who are elevating the sports world,” Ridpath said.

Due to the success and popularity of the summit, Ridpath and Stroebel are already working on the second annual event at the University of Bayreuth. 

“We’re looking to the future and hoping that this summit will offer a platform for the exchange between research and practice regarding American football in Germany,” Stroebel said. “It will be an interesting next few years to see what happens with the NFL’s engagement here, as well as its potential in other markets.”

This spring semester, Stroebel and Ridpath will continue to partner by offering a virtual class that both OHIO students and University of Bayreuth students can take jointly that focuses on sports administration. The students will work together to create solutions and share diverse perspectives.

Football summit Dr. Stroebel

The University of Bayreuth's Dr. Tim Stroebel presents during the Football Summit.