American football, or gridiron, is played by two teams using an oval ball on a 110- by 49-metre field. Each team has 11 attacking and 11 defensive players. Play stops to allow each team’s offensive or defensive players to take the field when possession of the ball shifts from one team to the other. The team with possession of the ball attempts to carry or pass it to the scoring area at the end of the field (the end zone). They must gain at least 10 yards (9 metres) in four plays (also known as downs) to continue advancing the ball. If they do not manage this, possession of the ball passes to the opposing team.
A touchdown is achieved by advancing the ball into the opposing team’s end zone and is worth six points. A field goal is achieved by kicking the ball over the goal posts and is worth three points. If a touchdown is followed by advancing the ball into the end zone from 2 or 3 yards (1.8 or 2.7 metres) back from the goal line, two extra points can be won, and if the ball is place-kicked over the crossbar one extra point is scored.
Local competitions take place in the Auckland and Wellington regions. In 2013 the Wellington league had three teams, but the usual 11 players on the field can drop to nine or seven due to the difficulty of maintaining numbers. The Auckland league, with seven teams, was a stronger league.
New Zealand, Australian and, since 2012, American Samoan teams compete in the Oceania Bowl (an International Federation of American Football competition). New Zealand has had some victories, including one of the first matches when the under-19 Iron Blacks won in 1999, and then again in 2009.
Scouting for talent
In its home country, American football involves large sums of money, and in 2010 New Zealanders who played rugby union and league were being eyed up by local scout Shannon Stowers. Rookie (beginner) professionals in the United States earn over US$300,000 a year – and a few Kiwis (including Stowers) have had discussions with US teams or won US football scholarships.
The first American football clubs in New Zealand were set up in Auckland in 1980, followed by Wellington and the New Zealand American Football Association (NZAFA) later in the decade. NZAFA joined with Gridiron New Zealand in 2004 to become American Football New Zealand.
At the local level, clubs in Auckland-Waikato and Wellington-Manawatū began regional competitions in 1982 and 1990 respectively. No single team has dominated either competition. The Oceania Federation of American Football, formed in 1999, includes New Zealand, Australia and (since 2010) American Samoa.