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UK weekly edition, Wenesday, August 1, 2007

RAF MILDENHALL

Are you ready for some football? And some basketball, hockey and even a fistful of ultimate fighting tossed in?

You better be, because nearly every professional American sports league save Major League Baseball will be dispatching teams to the United Kingdom this fall in a bid to spread the sports beyond North America.

Both the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League draw players from around the world, but the games are more a move to cultivate a new generation of fans outside of the United States than to attract future players.

And with roughly 250,000 Americans living in the United Kingdom, there appears to be no greater testing ground than England, where sporting officials are hoping the lack of a language barrier and the close cultural ties with America will translate into jammed arenas and positive media coverage.

So far, with two of the events already sold out, the excitement needs no stoking.

For servicemembers stationed in England, the games are a chance to catch some big-time sporting action in unique venues. The schedule for the coming months includes visits from stars such as Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Eli Manning.

But with the majority of these events already sold out, Internet auction sites may be American sports fans’ best alternative to get tickets.

UFCThe unapologetically violent blood sport that bills itself as the fastest-growing professional sport is set to stage a monster event sure to please Octagon enthusiasts.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship will descend on London to host a fight with international flavor as Croatia’s Mirko “Cro Cop” is slated to battle France’s Cheick Kongo in a heavyweight bout. The event is set for Sept. 8 at the 02 Arena.

UFC organizers hope this London event will serve as a springboard to hold similar events at major cities across Europe in the coming years, according to the UFC Web site, www.ufc.com.

For information, visit http://www.theo2.co.uk/web/ guest/booking.

NHLThe Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks are set to face off in a weekend double header in London on back-to-back nights at the O2 Arena. The games are set for Sept. 29 and 30.

The games will not be the first international contests for the National Hockey League, which has previously hosted games in Japan and England. Tokyo hosted several games in the late 1990s and early 2000s while London saw four teams battle in two preseason contests in 1993.

More than 12,000 tickets were sold the first week they were made available and the games sold out shortly after. But there’s always eBay.

NBAOne of the most storied franchises in American pro sports, although not nearly as celebrated of late, will clash with one of the league’s premier big men on Oct. 2 at the O2 Arena in London.

The Boston Celtics and the Minnesota Timberwolves may not be the elite of the league, but they both boast exciting individual players in Pierce and Garnett. The NBA’s international popularity led to the quick ticket sellout.

Again, eBay may be the best one can do.

NFLIt’s hard to argue with the popularity of the National Football League, and it’s clear that enthusiasm carries across the Atlantic Ocean after the initial wave of tickets at Wembley Stadium sold out for the Oct. 28 contest between the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins.

Two years ago, the NFL held its first regular season games outside of the United States when the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers clashed in Mexico City. More than 100,000 fans jammed into Aztec Stadium for the historic game, and NFL aspirations for a similar outcome in London appear within reach.

Tickets are tough to come by, but the NFL will make another allotment available via its Web site later this summer. Check www.nfluk.com for more information.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

ITT finding it hard to get tickets

RAF LAKENHEATH — If ticket sales are any indication, American professional sports have flooded onto English shores with the force of a tsunami. If you waited too long, you have little chance for seats.

And that goes for the ticketing professionals as well.

Officials at the Information, Tickets & Travel office at Lakenheath said they went through four of their top ticket brokers trying to secure NFL tickets to the Miami Dolphins vs. New York Giants game in October with no luck.

“We’ve tried all we could and just couldn’t get the tickets,” said ITT manager Reyne Vanderburg. “We’ve been telling people to go to the Wembley Web site and enroll in their lottery. That’s about all we can say right now.”

The Web site, www.nfllondon2007.com, stated there will be another lottery and additional tickets will be made available as the game approaches.

The ITT office, however, is still offering round-trip transportation to the game in western London for 13 pounds ($26), which will save football enthusiasts the frustration of the more than two-hour drive from Suffolk to London each way.

Vanderburg said her office is still working to line up ticket possibilities for the Ultimate Fighting Championship event in September. And there also will be a bus to transport UFC aficionados from Suffolk to London.

“We’ve had way more interest in the UFC than we expected and are trying to do all we can to get tickets to sell,” she said.

Octagon fans will be pleased to hear that several of the fighters are scheduled to make appearances on RAF Lakenheath before the fight. The time and location of the visit are still in the works.

Meanwhile, ITT is working to arrange similar transportation options for fans heading to the NBA or NHL games at the O2 Arena this fall.

For more information on tickets and travel, call ITT at 01638 52 2979.

— Bryan Mitchell

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