Super Bowl: The Rise of the NFL in Denmark


Around Jutland, sports fans prepare for the most celebrated American game day – the Super Bowl! With this year being the 50th anniversary, parties spanning the Atlantic are going to be bigger than ever. So Jutland Station decided to speak to some hardcore fans in Aarhus to see their perspective on the NFL and its rise in popularity among the Danish.

By Emily Anderson 

It’s football time in Denmark! Wait, does American football really hold a stake anywhere in Europe? Actually, yes it does. As NFL fans across the U.S. prepare for this Sunday like an honored national holiday, Danish fans are preparing along with them – arranging watch parties with American food and beer that are already scheduled to last long into the night. Whatever responsibilities are waiting on Monday morning will just have to wait, as Super Bowl Sunday only comes once a year and unfortunately won’t start until after midnight in central Europe.

American football first began airing in Denmark around 10 years ago according to Nils Mikkelsen, an avid NFL fan since 2005. “TV 2 ZULU has always been a TV channel for young people, kind of for far out, niche things…they bought the rights [to NFL], which were pretty cheap at that point because no one was really watching it.” For this channel, there were restrictions on how many commercials could be aired per program, which clashed with the heavy amount shown during game time in America, so something had to be done about the amount of down time during the games.

I immediately liked the physicality of the sport – people hitting each other but still wearing safety equipment.

The solution was to implement two commentators who later became famous for their added personal flair. Their names were Claus Elming and Jimmy Bøjgaard. “They were really funny. They weren’t shy about sitting there eating popcorn and cracking jokes.” Nils recalls that one Thanksgiving Day – a day in which football games are played for around twelve hours straight – Claus Elming became noticeably drunk on the show. Any Dane flipping through channels looking for something to watch would probably be drawn into this kind of entertaining commentating.

Mathias Ebsen, another American football fan going on about 7 years, recalls a different reason for growing interested in the unknown game: “I immediately liked the physicality of the sport – people hitting each other but still wearing safety equipment.” With most sports in Europe, direct, forceful contact between players is immediately recognized as a foul, so the idea of players intentionally tackling each other was completely foreign. “You actually get to hit people legally, and it’s intriguing when you’re in Denmark.”

The physical nature of the game did attract Mathias, as he participated in an American football day camp here in Aarhus known as Rookie Day. On Super Bowl Sunday, guys can learn the techniques and play American football at their local club. He later on went to study in the U.S. at Southeast Missouri State University, where he learned to play flag football and still plays back home here in Denmark. When asked his opinion about the supposition of the rising popularity of American football among the Danish, he affirms, “I agree that the sport it growing here. It’s getting quite big actually.”

NFL is a lot like what you’d call a reality show. There’s a lot of drama going on, rivalries.

Both Nils and Mathias profess that the rise in popularity of the sport, with its initial possibly overwhelming amount of rules, might not be due completely to the game itself but also lies in the entertainment factor of the NFL. Both were impressed by the “glitz and glamour,” – a suitably stated phrase by Nils. “NFL is a lot like what you’d call a reality show. There’s a lot of drama going on, rivalries.” When a fan knows the details of the players, the coaches and their interwoven relationships, it only makes the game more exciting. You might not only be committed to the game for wanting a certain team to beat another, but you might also be anxiously watching as player number 1 looks player number 2 in the eye and flashes an incriminating glance.

In addition to the underlying drama are the thundering theatrical performances occurring at U.S. football games. While attending university in the States, Mathias attended a game at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, MO where the then St. Louis Rams played the Seattle Seahawks. “I thought it was going to be a little boring because usually the game is really long – almost four hours – but it was really entertaining. Not only the sport, but the surroundings, everything that was going on at the game.” A typical football game composes of simultaneously competing bands, competing cheerleaders and exuberant mascots dancing around the field. “It was incredible,” he says remembering his first dose of live American football.

Super Bowl Sunday takes place this Sunday, February 7 (but here, technically Monday, Feb. 8) at 00:30 CET between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos, and it won’t be difficult to find venues to go throughout Aarhus, especially with this year being the Golden Anniversary of NFL. There is a watch party taking place at the Studenterhus on Aarhus University campus. Several restaurants in town are hosting parties and offering to-go packages compiled of stereotypical American food.

Teachers and bosses, beware! Your students and employees might not get much sleep Sunday night, depending of course, on how well the “underdogs” of Carolina, who have competed in the Super Bowl twice and lost both times, take on the two-time NFL champions- the Broncos.