There are few things more satisfying than getting someone to like the same thing you do. That’s maybe the biggest charm of NFL France, which with more than 6,000 followers is the Twitter account to follow if you’re a French NFL fan. America’s obsession with football was bound to seed and sprout in foreign lands. In this case, 21-year-old Victor Colom is essentially Fan Zero, a lifelong football junkie who is converting and serving newly formed NFL fans in his country through social media.
Colom started a Twitter account so he could follow Chad Ochocinco and ask him questions. Sometime last year, about the time Chuck Pagano called the worst fake punt in history, NFL France blew up, gaining thousands of followers overnight, many of them Americans who were tickled by Colom’s earnest interest in football and translation of the sport. (Colom blames PFT Commenter for making him so popular.)
With players like Germany’s Moritz Boehringer and France’s Anthony Dablé in the NFL, Europe has perhaps more direct investment in American Football than it has ever had, and fan interest, such as it is, seems to be at an all-time high. Colom talked to me about life as France’s eminent football twitterer, what he thinks of the league today and the state of the NFL in France.
How did you become an NFL fan?
We'd been going to America during our holidays, and [my dad is] a huge NFL fan. He didn't really explain to me how he became a fan, but I know that he loves the Dolphins and it had something to do with Dan Marino, because I remember we actually went to the Hall of Fame when Dan Marino got inducted just to see him.
When I started following, I actually followed the Dolphins because it was hard to follow the games here in France. They weren't really showing games on the main channels. There was like one showing games but not at times that were easy for people to follow because, you know, with the time difference here it's really late. They were only showing the Sunday night games, so it would be like 2 a.m. here, and I was just too young to stay up and watch it.
That's probably another big reason -- I'm following NCAA and all that -- that I actually want to go to college in America to see what the atmosphere is like, because I've always seen during their college games that the atmosphere with the fans in the stadium is just unbelievable. That's one of the big reasons why I actually want to go there and maybe next year or the year after. We'll see.
What college do you want to go to?
I'm not sure, because I love California but it's just so far away from France. So I don't know, it's complicated, but Ohio State was one that really stood out to me, I think.
How do you feel about Wisconsin?
Wisconsin? What do I remember about them? Yeah! There's a big school there. Wait, I'm getting confused now, it's where Green Bay is, right?
Yeah, same state, but yeah. That’s where I went to school.
Well, there's not much things to do in Wisconsin is there?
That’s ... not wrong. So you’ve been an NFL fan since birth?
Pretty much. I think the earliest memory I have was actually Michael Vick, which he's the main reason why I became a Falcons fan in the end. I just remembered watching highlights when I started to get into the NFL even more and more, I just started looking on YouTube, just highlights and stuff, and I actually found videos of Michael Vick, and it just got me even more attracted to the sport. I just started following more and more games and checking stats, and then fantasy football came along and that was like the big thing.
If you were watching Michael Vick play, you were ...
It was like right before he got arrested, I think maybe a year or two before he got arrested. I was like, I couldn't understand what was happening. I was like, 'Wait, why is he not on the team any more?' Because it wasn't a big story here in France, so I just really didn't understand.
How do you feel about the Falcons this year?
I had hopes last year because they started so well, but I'm not sure with the general manager and all that. I think that the coach, Dan Quinn, will be pretty good, and I have high hopes, but I think we're towards the end of Matt Ryan's career, he's probably going to decline from now on, which is bad because it's just going to start a new cycle, we're going to have to find a new quarterback. Then Julio Jones will be old, so I don't know. And there's still no pass rush, which is a shame, I think.
When did you start the NFL France Twitter account?
That started two years ago, so we're heading toward our third season right now. It started so quickly, like I think two weeks before the 2014 season started. A friend of mine was just like, 'Yeah, you should just start an NFL France account because you're like one of the main people in France who follow it' -- well, from France that we knew. And he was like, 'Yeah, you can probably get many followers and get more people into it,' because that friend, I was a big reason that he started following it because I was talking to him about it, when we'd play Madden together.
I think towards the end of the year, like December, I think we had 300 or 400 followers, so the first season was kind of calm. Then heading to a second season, because we didn't really do anything during the offseason, we actually had better tweets because we started using Vines, and that was the big period when Vine came around, and I started using Vine and some tweets went viral, and then some Americans -- I can't remember, I think the main one who got me famous was PFT Commenter -- I think he started retweeting me and stuff and then it got bigger because we got so many followers from America.
Like there was a big tweet, I think our biggest one was when the Colts had that weird punt formation?
Oh yeah, that fake that was a total disaster.
Yeah, well that tweet really blew up and it got us thousands of followers overnight, it was crazy. It just got bigger like this, and right now we're actually working on the website, which should be live soon just before the season. Hopefully it's going to get even bigger.
You’re starting a website? Are there enough NFL fans in France for a website to be successful?
I think so, yes, because on Twitter there aren't many people, but I know that there's this big sports channel [beIN Sports] and they're the ones who actually bought the rights for the NFL. They actually bought it last year, and that was like the first year that we had every game and it was kind of like a RedZone thing. I notice because the year before, people weren't really talking about it. There was just like the Monday night games and the Sunday night game, so it was too late, but now with the early games on Sunday, it starts at 7 p.m. here, so it's like really a perfect time, because there's not really anything else on TV for sports.
Since you’ve gained a following, have you been able to find more and more NFL fans in France? Have you figured out who they are?
We actually have a friend who has a YouTube channel, and he does gaming, and he does videos on Madden, and I think he's probably the only one in France doing that, so we're partnering up with him because he actually tells his viewer that we're here if they have questions about the game and all that.
Last year he had a meet up, and so some of the people who watch his channel, we all came together and we actually played football together, and so we had like a little chat, around 20-30 people. It wasn't that much but on short notice and in Paris, because there's loads of people around France following us, so they couldn't come. But I think we can do something like this and start to know how they started following, if it was just by accident, scrolling through the channels and seeing the game and they're like, 'Yeah what is this?' Or like me, because their parents watch it.
That’s cool, what were the ground rules of the game?
It wasn't flag, it was two-touch, because obviously we don't want to injure someone. The guy who does the videos, he actually plays football on a team in Paris, so that's why he organized it, because I've never played football so we couldn't really organize that and get the ball, and he had like cones and stuff so he actually taught us routes.
Is football popular enough in France that someone could see you playing that game in a park and they would know what you’re doing?
I think they would know what we're playing, but it's still at a stage where loads of people are just like, 'What are the rules?' I think one of the main obstacles, especially in France where soccer is so popular and rugby, is all the ads and the game always stopping, because when they start and they just see the kickoff, and then there's an ad straightaway, they're like, 'What the hell, we wait so long and there's already an ad?'
But I've actually noticed as well, with some of my friends, that when they got through that obstacle and they started trying to actually understand the rules, it was actually like so much easier for them.
Why did you travel so much to the United States?
Because my parents love it. I've actually been to every single state.
Is there a reason your parents liked to visit the United States so much?
They both went there when they were younger, so when they were both teenagers, but apart from that, I think that was one of the main reasons why they liked it and wanted to just discover every single state. My dad has always liked American culture, sports or the movies and everything, show business and all that.
Have you been able to see a live NFL game yet?
Actually, yes. So every time we go there during the summer, we always try to go to a preseason game, which is a shame because it's only the preseason and it's not that fun, but it's better than nothing. But my dad actually started to go to live games during the year, but it's hard for me because I have college, so I've been to two live games: One in New York, the Giants, and another one in Philly. So we just went in October and stayed for the weekend there and just watched the game.
That was really, really cool because the atmosphere is so different from preseason games because it's, like, the tailgate and everything, and all the fans staying up until the end because the game is so close. It's really amazing, and hopefully one day I'll get to go to a playoff game, and maybe the Super Bowl because it's really something I want to do.
So how many NFL stadiums have you been to?
I have no idea. I know that in December I'm going to Los Angeles and I'm going to go see the Rams in the Coliseum, so that's one more stadium.
I'd say more than half. I think the nicest one was probably the Cowboys one, but I really like Lambeau Field. It's just so unique. I don't know how to describe it, but yeah it's great. And I'd love to see a live game when it's like minus-I-don't-know-how-much, with snow and stuff, that must be incredible.
How much do you think it helps the game to have European players enter the NFL? There’s a bunch of German players, there’s Anthony Dablé who’s French.
I think that's helped a lot, because we have big sports websites and sports journals and newspapers that actually wrote articles about it, whereas during the year nobody was really writing anything about the NFL. They do something every year for the Super Bowl because it's so big, but they don't really do anything following the season. So that's one big thing because people see this article and they're like, 'Whoa. A French player.'
I know some people that actually wrote to me on Twitter since the news that Anthony Dablé, they actually started telling me that they actually want to start playing football, and they're asking me, 'Where can I find clubs?' and stuff like this.
What’s your earliest memory of watching an NFL game?
I think the earliest I had was probably the Super Bowl between the Eagles and the Patriots with Donovan McNabb. After that I have more memories, because when Vick was in prison, I was trying to find a new favorite player and Chad Ochocinco became my favorite player. So that was really fun seeing what he did, and I really like him. He was like one of the reasons why I signed up for Twitter, because he was just so big and he still is right now. I remember starting Twitter because I was like, 'Yeah, I really want to ask him a question.'
Who is your current favorite player?
That's tough. I'd probably go with Julio Jones, but I really like Antonio Brown.
Who is your least-favorite player?
Oh that's easy, Cam Newton. I just don't like him.
I mean, there’s being a rival for the Falcons, it's probably the main one. He's the rival and he's always just so cocky and stuff. I mean I like when players are cocky, Ochocinco and all that, but I think it must be because he's a rival. I think he's a Falcons fan, isn't he? Because he's from Georgia? If he actually came to play for the Falcons I wouldn't be upset, and I wouldn't still dislike him.
So mainly because he’s a pain in the ass to the Falcons?
Yeah, that's why. But there's not really a player where, 'Yeah, I just really can't stand him.' Like I know probably Richard Sherman, I know a lot of people will tweet me like, 'I hate because he talks so much.' I don't have a problem because I like talkers like him. Trash talkers. It's fun I think.
So you’re not one of those people that cares that Cam Newton dances or dabs or anything like that?
Yeah, so all of these things are driving me crazy because I kind of have to talk about it from the Twitter account, but I just don't want to, because I just find it so ridiculous, everything going on with the people like, 'Yeah, why is he doing this?' J.J. Watt is doing some of the things he does but because it's J.J. Watt he can do whatever? It just doesn't make sense.
What story are you most tired of in the NFL? And I guess that’s a way of saying what do you think of DeflateGate?
That was the one! I was going to say it. I don't know what's your view on it, but for me it was just like, the game after that, the Super Bowl, they just won straight fair and square, so it's clearly not the ball that's going to be such a big difference. It shouldn't have been such a big deal, and now we have the appeals and stuff, and hopefully Brady doesn't appeal again because I just want it to be over. It's just running around in circles now.
Did that story make it to France?
Not really. I mean, through us and the other websites because we had to talk about it, and we actually had loads of people asking us questions because they don't really know the rules.
What stories do make it into French media?
The Ray Rice story made it in the media, because it's violence, so I think that's a big one. There might have been something on Spygate, I can't really remember for sure. But apart from that it's Super Bowl news, like who's going to be the halftime show.
Is there anything you don’t like about the NFL? That the league could do better?
Definitely to improve what is a catch or not, because it's confusing everyone and confuses us and confuses people that ask us questions. They're like, 'Why is this a touchdown when that wasn't?' We still have people talking to us about the Dez catch, Dez Bryant, which is funny because I see it with American Cowboys fans, but even here in France, some French fans it's always surprising me.
But apart from that, I personally am not a fan of games in London, and I hope they don't get a team there, but I get why European fans enjoy it because they are actually able to go to live games during the season. But for me, I've actually been to two games there -- I think it was Giants against the Dolphins and Chargers against the Saints -- and both times the atmosphere and the fans are not the one I'm looking for when I go to a regular season game
What is your opinion of Roger Goodell?
Dislike him. The thing that came out not too long ago with the amount of money he gets was ridiculous and it actually shocked some of the French fans that follow us, they're like 'How come he's getting so much when some other people, like guaranteed contracts are just so low?' I guess it's good what he's trying to do all the concussion stuff, but at the same time what he's doing with DeflateGate, just wanting to be right.
There's so many little stuff that's going wrong. He can't really fix everything himself, but I don't know if he's the right one to do the job.
Is Joe Flacco elite?
[Laughs] I don't think so.