By: Rebecca Friedman, Ryan Hirsh, Alyssa Infante
The Miami Dolphins had a change of scenery on Nov. 5, playing the Kansas City Chiefs in Frankfurt, Germany. No strangers to international fields, the Dolphins have played five games in the United Kingdom since 2007 but never made their way to German soil before.
Although a majority of fans in attendance at the game wore red in support of the defending Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, many Dolphins fans from all around the world made their way to Deutsche Bank Park to cheer on the Fins.
They witnessed the same 60 minutes of football as they would have in Miami Gardens. However, that is where the similarities between a home and an international game end.
The Most Important Part, Tailgating
Tailgating outside of the Hard Rock Stadium prior to kickoff is customary in South Florida. Cars file in hours before the game, many equipped with grills, speakers and coolers overflowing with beers.
“We always tailgate before games, and we grew up doing that,” said Monica Cardenas, a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan from South Florida. “We have a group of friends that we usually do it with, and we have food and drinks and hang out a few hours before.”
Once the beers run low, and the burgers are devoured, fans head into the stadium to find their seats and await the start of the game. Even with the advantage of South Florida sunshine, the festivities in Frankfurt put the Miami tailgating to shame.
Instead of cars, the outside of the stadium was full of fan interactive activities, a stage and DJ, countless food trucks and bars, and an entire building dedicated to NFL merchandise. All of this was accessible to fans with the scan of their game tickets at the front of the plaza.
Pre-game Festivities like No Other
The NFL’s goal for their international series is to spread American football globally. Fans could download the NFL OnePass application to their phone to access five interactive challenges: Wide Receiver Drill, Field Goal Kick, Vertical Jump, Broad Jump, and Cornhole. As fun as these challenges are, they are also educational. When German fans engage in these hands-on activities, they simultaneously increase their understanding of the sport’s fundamental elements.
Aside from these activities, options for food and drinks were endless at Deutsche Bank Park. At a home Miami Dolphins game, fans must provide their own meals and snacks if they choose to tailgate. Many grill hamburgers and hotdogs, or as South Florida native Tyler Retzler said, “have a pub-sub and some chips.”
In Frankfurt, food trucks surrounded the stadium. Popular German and American cuisine options were available: from gourmet burritos to Döner Kebabs to large pretzels to barbeque. Alcoholic beverage options were also plenty, including cocktails and German “apfelwein.” However, a majority of fans headed straight to grab a pint of beer.
Unlike at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, the merchandise store for the Frankfurt game was outside of the stadium, in a building adjacent to an outdoor practice soccer field. Fans waited up to 90 minutes in an immense line to enter the NFL shop. Inside the store were specialized clothes and goods for both the Dolphins and the Chiefs, as well as limited edition merchandise for the Frankfurt games.
Patriotism Across the Sea
One tradition before any American sports game is the rendition of the national anthem. At the Miami Dolphins home game against the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 15, 13-year-old King Bell sang the United States National Anthem with pride, beautifully. After the rendition, the entire crowd stood still, hats in hand, amazed at the pride shown throughout the song.
This led to the question of whether or not the same song or reaction would be present in the Frankfurt games. At the beginning of the game, Sgt. Dana Bowers performed her rendition of the song. The German-and-European-dominated crowd stood still, hats off, completely quiet in respect for the anthem.
What followed the rendition was a beautiful mix of cultures celebrating each other as German pop star Gregor Hagele sang his country’s national anthem while the American crowd, hats off, held the same level of respect as both countries celebrated each other.
A Peek Inside the Arena
The atmosphere inside of Deutsche Bank Park was unlike anything Dolphins fans have seen at home in Miami. Hard Rock Stadium has a capacity of 64,767 fans for Miami Dolphins games. That is 13,267 more people than the 51,500-person capacity at Deutsche Bank Park in Frankfurt. Nevertheless, Deutsche Bank Park seemed like it had much more than the announced 50,023 attendees during the game.
Perhaps it was louder than the typical NFL game in America because of the domed roof over the stadium, keeping in noise. Maybe it was just the excitement booming through the stadium. The crowd was roaring, cheering and celebrating after every big play. At Hard Rock Stadium, it is rare to see a crowd as engaged in the game as the fans in Germany were.
There was no lack of fan interactive activities throughout the game, in order to provide new prospective German NFL fans the best possible experience. There were t-shirt tosses, snack giveaways, a fan proposal, kiss cams, popular sing-along songs, and more. At the start of the fourth quarter, the lyrics of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” echoed through the stadium, as the entire crowd rose to their feet and belted along to the John Denver classic.
In America, the halftime show is a highly anticipated event that is reserved for only one game a season, the Super Bowl. However, these rules did not apply in Frankfurt, for singer Nico Santos and rapper Kontra K took the field for their halftime performance featuring hit songs in both German and English.
Experiencing NFL Firsthand
Unlike other regular season NFL games in America, the Frankfurt festivities commenced days prior to game day, heightening fans’ overall excitement going into the stadium.
The NFL built anticipation in the heart of the city center through their “NFL Experience Frankfurt“. The league displayed giant helmets representing the 32 NFL teams providing fans with a photo opportunity. The Kansas City Chiefs cheerleaders and drumline took to the streets, fans joined in on interactive quarterback drills, and people flocked to the merchandise booths. These pre-game events took place in a main town square, leading to easy accessibility for fans to engage with them and prepare for the big game.
Home Away From Home
Even though the Dolphins and Chiefs played a regular season game, it felt very far from “regular.” The NFL aspires to spread the popularity of the sport to countries abroad, like Germany, and does so by showcasing less of a game and more of a production.
Luis Rebmann, a Dolphins fan from Frankfurt, Germany, was extremely excited for his first NFL game after following the sport for the past ten years.
“Normally German soccer has a quite tense atmosphere,” he said. “This is a great atmosphere, and everybody is just having a good time.”
More than anything, the league wants fans to leave having had a great time, no matter the outcome of the game. Whereas back in the US, the focus falls more on the teams’ performance on the field.
Many Dolphins fans from South Florida traveled to Germany. Michael Hammon was one of them. A Dolphins’ season-ticket holder for more than 30 years, he viewed this game as an escape from the serious atmosphere of a home game in Miami.
“You don’t feel like it is as important to win or lose because you are doing the whole experience,” Hammon said. “We are just going to have fun, win or lose.”
When the Dolphins play at home, fans go to a game, but in Frankfurt, fans go to a party.