32 Fans, 32 Countries is a look at the global reaches of the NFL. For this project we have attempted to interview 32 different fans of all 32 teams in 32 different countries all around the world (UK, Canada, and Mexico excluded). As readers will find, the paths to fandom are as varied as the cultures and customs of each country. Check back every day for a new profile. Next up: A Patriots Fan in Thailand.
For years, Thailand native Noppatjak Attanon was a casual NFL fan. In the early 90s, he would catch whatever games were shown live on TV 3, Thailand’s second-most viewed broadcast station. It was a testament to the NFL’s already growing global popularity that at the time NFL games were offered live and at no cost in a country without any obvious tentacles to the league.
Attanon would watch the NFL, but did not have a favorite team. Without any geographic or familial influence, most casual NFL viewers need an “aha” moment before genuinely adopting a franchise. Attanon’s came in 1996 when the quintessential NFL agent film, “Jerry Maguire,” was released featuring a cameo from then New England Patriots quarterback, Drew Bledsoe.
Like the starring actor’s similar declaration on Oprah’s couch, Attanon’s love for the Patriots was sealed in an instant.
“If the director of the movie picked this guy, he has to be good,” Attanon said.
Attanon was right about director Cameron Crowe’s selection. Bledsoe was good and so were the Patriots. In fact, they were in the midst of a pre-Renaissance — including a Super Bowl loss and two more playoff berths from ’96-’98 — that would precede the sheer dominance of the franchise from 2001 forward.
Bledsoe drew Attanon in, but it was Bledsoe’s successor, Tom Brady who made Attanon a Patriots lifer.
In 2001 Brady led the Patriots to a Super Bowl victory, and that was about the time Attanon made Patriots football appointment viewing. He had already been watching games when the Patriots were shown, and says it didn’t take him long to pick up the game’s intricacies along the way. Also helping both Attanon’s knowledge and his appreciation of the sheer enormity of the NFL was the fact that he spent 2001 living in Wisconsin as an exchange student. There was no better situation for Attanon to start his budding fandom.
After school, Attanon moved to Bangkok where he has gone on to become a wildly popular news reporter for National Channel. He boasts over 111,000 Twitter followers and over 19,000 people like him on Facebook. If the NFL ever wanted to make an overt play in Thailand, they have a legitimate influencer in Attanon.
“There is potential for the NFL because Thai people love watching sport,” he said.
Attanon says the NFL’s popularity is constantly growing, but he isn’t convinced the ceiling is very high. Once Attanon moved to Bangkok, he found more NFL fans to commiserate with and bars to watch games but says the league doesn’t resonate much outside of major cities.
The big barrier, according to Attanon, is the starting times of games. The 1 P.M. and 4 P.M. EST kickoffs in the United States equates to 1 A.M. and 4 A.M. in Thailand. Even Attanon, now a Patriots devotee fan, admits to only being able to catch a half on occasion.
“If the NFL started games at a time that was more comfortable for Thai people to watch, I think there would be big growth,” he said.
Attanon wishes the NFL were a little more like soccer, which airs Premier League games at 6PM or 7PM Thai time. He has seen that sport’s growth, which he credits mostly to accessibility. Not only do soccer matches occur at a more appealing watch time, they’re free.
To see the same live NFL games that were once gratis, fans now have to subscribe to a pay channel.
With Roger Goodell chomping at the bit for a more international NFL, perhaps Attanon will get his wish some day. For now, he’ll have to settle for a few sleepless nights or highlights in the morning. But at least he can re-watch Jerry Maguire whenever he would like.