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How Popular Is American Football and the NFL in New Zealand?

Riki Ellison Born in Christchurch, Ellison created history becoming the first New Zealander to play in the NFL and win a Super Bowl
Rhett Ellison’s Father Riki was the first NFL player to win a Super Bowl From New Zealand. Rhett played for seven seasons in the NFL.

When it comes to NFL it is undoubtedly the biggest and most sensational sport in the US. Super Bowl opening is such a spectacle that people from all over the world tune in to see it. However, apart from the opening ceremony the rest of the world doesn’t care much for this sport. It’s worth noting that American Football is similar to rugby. So, it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that people who love rugby will enjoy NFL, right? Well, let’stake a look at New Zealand, a place where rugby is the top sport, and see if NFL is popular there.   

Entertainment in New Zealand 

New Zealanders love exciting entertainment, so they do watch a lot of sports. Moreover, kiwis love to bet on matches and they often play online pokies. In fact, offshore operators and online casinos are very interested in New Zealand as their target market. Kiwis use information by TerraCasino experts to find out who among these operators can be trusted, and where they can find the best bonuses. Gaming is also very popular here, and some of the most played video games are sports titles like FIFA and NBA.

However, when it comes to NFL it isn’t that popular here. Not just NFL, but American Football in general. Sure there are a lot of those who enjoy watching it, but it’s not even in the top 5 most popular sports. 

Main Reason Why New Zealanders are Interested in the NFL

One of the big reasons why kiwis love to watch the NFL is that some of their favourite athletes are there. It’s not too uncommon for NFL teams to recruit talent from the rugby pool. This provides an answer to a burning question – Can rugby players take on the NFL? And in a lot of cases, the answer is yes. Infact, there are instances where rugby players who sustained an injury move to NFL and have a thriving career. After all, American Football is safer compared to rugby. 

Problems with NFL

American Football and rugby look very similar, but there are some key differences between these two sports. Right away you can see that players wear protective gear in NFL, so it’s safe by default. This doesn’t look like a big deal but it actually is. The helmet makes it more difficult for players to see and it makes it easier for the team that has possession of the ball to conceal it. 

It’s not uncommon to see 2 or 3 piles of players who are fighting for the ball. Meaning the opponents have managed to trick the other side to think that the ball might be in their pile. To spectators, it’s clear that the biggest pile of players is where the ball is usually located. Since no one can be sure where the ball is located everyone tries to knock out someone just to be sure they don’t have it.    

Also, NFL has constant breaks and time-outs, so the game feels sluggish. There are also commercial breaks and at times people get the impression that it is a sport for ads. Basically, the action boils down to a couple of seconds, which can feel frustrating to those who didn’t grow up watching this sport.  

Why is Rugby More Popular

Rugby is drastically different compared to NFL. First, there is no protective gear, so players have better vision, and they don’t tackle one another so recklessly, because there is a good chance they’ll get hurt. Moreover, there are 5 to 7 minutes of non-stop action, and that’s already more engaging than American Football. 

In fact, it is very difficult for NFL to make it anywhere else outside of the US. There are a few reasons why NFL isn’t getting international attention

  • The name is misleading – People who hear football expect to see an entirely different game. If they want to be honest about the sport call it “Ads ball” or “Commercial ball” 
  • The game needs to become more dynamic – As mentioned it feels sluggish and unnecessarily long.
  • It needs more finesse and precision – The area players need to reach in order to score is way too big. How is it possible for anyone to miss it? The sport lacks suspense. 

Most Popular Sports in New Zealand

In addition to rugby, kiwis really enjoy other sports:

  • Netball
  • Cricket
  • Basketball
  • Soccer
  • Horse racing

Not only do they enjoy watching these sports but there is also a high number of them who play them recreationally. Unfortunately, a small percentage plays American Football, and that’s mainly due to the reasons stated above.


To sum up, NFL is mainly popular because it is similar to rugby. Many professional rugby players pivot to an NFL career and they can even thrive there. However, only the US invests in NFL marketing, while many nations simply view American Football as an inferior version of rugby. 

Damond Talbot

NFL Draft Diamonds was created to assist the underdogs playing the sport. We call them diamonds in the rough. My name is Damond Talbot, I have worked extremely hard to help hundreds of small school players over the past several years, and will continue my mission. We have several contributors on this site, and if they contribute their name and contact will be in the piece above. You can email me at

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