Imagine a world where you turn on the TV and there are soccer games in every sports channel. Imagine a place where you have basically no access to NFL games, and you don’t even know other people who have an idea of what football is, and specific terms spoken in another language are somewhat unrelatable. Now think about other places where the best NFL games start at 2 am on Monday.
Supporting the Green Bay Packers is something natural to people who grow up in Wisconsin or even in other states of the US. But it’s certainly unusual for international fans. First of all, a person needs to get interested in football, a sport that is marginal outside of the United States. In most places, soccer dominates.
Then, after someone falls in love with the NFL, there are 32 options to support, with no geographical propensity. The odds are low. How, then, a foreign fan starts to cheer for the Packers? There are different stories from different countries, but the cultural aspect of the team, the ownership structure and the small market are common attractive factors.
“Since the beginning of the 90s, I sympathized with football and the NFL, through a little game I had on the computer, and soon after on Mega Drive with Joe Montana’s game. The Packers were one of the teams I enjoyed playing with the most. But it was with the popularity of Brett Favre and the mid 90s Packers, and then during my exchange program, that I definitely became a fan and started following Green Bay more closely”, said Guilherme Behs, a Brazilian Packers fan who co-founded fanpage Cheeseheads BR.
Following the NFL abroad has become easier in the last decade with a significant jump in popularity, but simply watching games was already a challenge some years ago. In South America, for example, the NFL doesn’t air on broadcast television, and just people with access to cable TV or the Game Pass are able to watch it. And it was even harder 20, 30 years ago.
“I started following the Packers in 1991, when cable TV arrived in my country”, says Fernando Medeiros, a Uruguayan fan who hosts the Spanish-speaking YouTube channel CheeseChat. “We had two games a week, both on ESPN/CBS. Majik Man was the QB then. It sure is (easier to follow the team now). When I started, and the Packers weren’t playing on prime time, we just had the halftime report with a few images, maybe two or three plays, to realize if we had won or not, and the Internet wasn’t available yet”, said Fernando, who is the guy on the photo of this piece during a visit to Lambeau Field in 2017.
There are also fans who started supporting the team more recently, during the Internet era. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s all easy. For Irish fan Daire Carragher, prime time games in Europe mean late night/early morning games. Something he has learned to like.
“I love staying up late for games. Maybe that opinion will change as I get older, but the beauty of watching the Packers in the early hours of the morning is that there is nothing to get in your way. No work/family commitments will ever get in the way of watching primetime NFL games because when they’re on, everyone else on this island is asleep”, highlights Daire, who covers the Packers for American-based websites 247 Sports, Packer Report and PFF.
Near the US, the reality is starting to get more interesting. Eduardo Orvañanos, from Mexico City, followed his dad in Packers fandom and says there is now a big football fanbase in the country.
“The (Packers) fanbase here is absurdly large. The sport has grown massively the last 10-15 years, almost everyone here loves football now. And every time I go out, I see at least one person with some type of Packers attire. And to my surprise, most of the time it is the only colors I see on the street”, Orvañanos said. “The Packers should play one game here in Azteca Stadium before 12 retires. I guarantee it would break the record for most Packers fans in a stadium”.
The Green Bay Packers are going to play in London this season, another step in the direction to internationalize the brand. But the path is marked: the Packers are a worldwide team.
Wendell Ferreira covers the Green Bay Packers for Zone Coverage and Cheesehead TV. He is a Brazilian journalist with over a decade of experience covering the NFL, soccer, NBA, and MMA. Follow him on twitter at @wendellfp