Something odd is happening in Richmond. Walk around and you will notice people wearing the scarf of a football team that doesn’t exist. In shop windows, you will glimpse life-size cutouts of the same moustached man, smiling and gazing into the near distance like a cult leader. And there seem to be American tourists around every corner.
This is all thanks to Ted Lasso, an American comedy show about a lower-league American football coach (Lasso, played by Jason Sudeikis) who is drafted in to manage the fictional Premier League soccer side AFC Richmond, despite having no experience of the game.
The series producers needed to find a setting that was close to London (for logistical reasons), appeared quintessentially English and, crucially, didn’t have an existing football club. Richmond, a rugby area on the edge of the city, fit the bill perfectly. And as the series grows in popularity, more tourists are coming to Richmond to visit filming locations from the show.
So much so that a cottage industry in Ted Lasso Tourism has emerged. I joined a tour with Emmy McMorrow, an actress and, as of July last year, tour guide specialising in Ted Lasso sights. She is the first to run bespoke tours of the show’s filming locations, and since launching has been inundated with booking requests, around 95 per cent of which are coming from Americans.
As we walk the streets, Emmy leads me to the homes of the lead characters, the riverside spot where the star player kisses his love interest for the first time, the pub where Lasso and Coach drink beer together. And as we walk, she seems to turn heads. Ted Lasso fans, perhaps? Or another reason, maybe. She has “believe” embroidered on the back of her dress, a catchphrase of the show, and says she has even been mistaken for a religious preacher and thanked for doing the Lord’s work.
If you have never watched Ted Lasso, or perhaps never even heard of it, you are not alone. It certainly has a following here in the UK, but because the series streams on Apple+ it has nowhere near the viewing figures of the likes of Stranger Things (Netflix) or Game of Thrones (Sky/NowTV). Maybe British viewers are also put off by the idea of an American take on Premier League football.
But Emmy has clearly landed on something good here. Film and TV tourism is a huge industry, particularly among Americans, and it has the ability to drive visitors in significant numbers. Just look at Maya Bay in Thailand (filming location of The Beach), Dubrovnik (setting for King’s Landing in Game of Thrones) or the Harry Potter tours that take place in Edinburgh, to name just a few.
Could it be that Richmond is heading in the same direction?
A romcom vision of Britishness
The pedestrianised Paved Court is the epicentre of Ted Lasso tourism in Richmond, as the protagonist lives at number 9 ½ (in real life, 11a). The road is narrow and lined by elegant shops and cafes, a romcom vision of Britishness. On my visit there were a handful of people taking photos in front of Lasso’s front door, but I am told that on weekends hundreds of Ted Lasso fans can be found taking selfies (or “ussies”) on the street.
“To a lot of people it’s more than just a show, coming to Richmond is like a pilgrimage,” says Emmy, adding that many of her customers say that the uplifting comedy series has helped them through depression or terminal illnesses. She collates these positive accounts and has passed them to Jason Sudeikis via a mutual friend.
Some have taken their fandom to the extreme. Emmy recounts a story of one couple from Minnesota who caught wind that filming was due to take place the next day (there are blogs for superfans, keeping tabs on when film crews arrive and parking notices go up) and boarded an overnight flight to London. Another superfan, Inge, arrived at 6.45am on a shoot day and stayed until the crew packed away at 7.15pm. When one of the security guards noticed she had been there all day, he took her to meet Sudeikis and one of the other stars.
So far, so harmless. So positive, even. But how do the local businesses – the tailors, the barbers, the coffee shops – feel about this newfound attention?
The businesses cashing in
Claudio and Cristina, owners of the Reale Camiceria embroidery shop on Paved Court, have fully embraced the series. When I walk into their shop there is an enormous cutout of Lasso, and they show me articles from American newspapers covering Richmond’s connections to the show.
They are even cashing in on increased footfall by making their own bespoke Ted Lasso merchandise. While they can’t actually sell anything explicitly linked to Ted Lasso or AFC Richmond, for copyright reasons, they have found a way around this by registering the trademark of an undeniably Lasso-esque sunglasses-and-moustache design that they sell on socks (£20) and caps (£25). These, Claudio says, are their bestselling items.
Anne Newton of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, said that businesses “have seen a welcome uplift in interest and turnover of circa 10 per cent to 20 per cent” thanks to the show.
Not everyone agrees it is a universally good thing, though. Christopher Bright co-owns the coffee and tea merchants Rosie & Java, which was based on Paved Court just a couple of doors down from flat 9 ½ until October last year. He says the increased footfall was a great thing for business, but asks whether the series is bringing tourists to the area for the wrong reasons.
“A part of me feels it has taken away slightly from what Paved Court was known for prior to Ted Lasso, being a charming lane off Richmond Green with all its history. It is now known simply as ‘the Ted Lasso street’ to many,” he said.
The deputy landlord at The Prince’s Head, just at the end of Paved Court and fictionalised as the Crown and Anchor in the series, says that they receive hundreds of American visitors a day.
“They’re queuing outside at ten to twelve,” he says. The pub even has a special corner dedicated to the show, with photographs signed by the stars. Apparently American tourists are surprised when they arrive in the pub to find the screens showing rugby, not “soccer”.
Worries of ‘Disneyfication’ of Richmond
As for the locals? During our tour, while on Richmond Green a woman approached Emmy after overhearing a mention of Ted Lasso. She asked for a business card and said she would book a tour for her friend.
“She’s a huge fan, she’ll absolutely love this,” she said.
Others are equally positive. Local resident James Hoff said: “Great for tourism for the town’s post pandemic recovery.” Ted Lasso tourism is a “fantastic force for good,” said Paul Scullion. But some are more nervous about the implications of rising tourist numbers.
“Please do not turn it into a tourist stop, Disneyland style,” says Ale Ayala. “Making it an official tourist destination would be detrimental to the area. They just come for the photo.”
“I noticed the shop windows in Paved Court that were once so lovely, now have a lot of Ted stuff in the windows and [there are] people taking random photos,” adds Jo Ward.
More traditional tour guides seem to see the Ted Lasso effect as a positive thing for the area. Paul Jackson runs Discovery Richmond and leads guided walking tours in the area.
“I think it’s good because it brings people into Richmond, which is good for local businesses. It also gives them the opportunity to be introduced to the other attractions of Richmond,” he says, such as Richmond Palace, the riverfront and the royal park, London’s biggest. He even sometimes incorporates Ted Lasso filming locations in his tours, depending on the interest of the group. But he is unsure whether the trend will last.
“The themes that I focus on, history, culture, scenic attractions, they’re not passing fads. It remains to be seen whether Ted Lasso will stand the test of time.”
There are certainly the early warning signs that we have seen in Dubrovnik, Maya Bay, Edinburgh, of an area tipping over from niche appeal to mass interest. Bottlenecks in tight areas, disgruntled locals, opportunistic businesses capitalising on the tourist trade.
But it seems unlikely that things will spiral out of control here. The final episode of Ted Lasso comes out on May 31, so surely interest in the area either has, or will soon, peak and plateau among American viewers. Perhaps the way Richmond handles its moment in the sun will be an uplifting success story, a bit like Ted Lasso’s? We can but believe.
The final episode of Ted Lasso airs on Apple+ on May 31. Emmy McMorrow’s Ted Lasso Tours run on Sundays at 12.30pm (tedlassotour.com; advanced booking essential), £26 for adults. She also runs private tours for smaller groups from £110.