A couple of weeks after another successful International Series game at Wembley stadium, the NFL announced that London will host three (yes three!) NFL games next season. This is a huge step for the NFL, only six years after the first International Series game was hosted in 2007 between the Giants and the Dolphins. The NFL clearly believes there is a market in the UK which can be exploited, but how long until we see a team which is based in London?
There has already been seven games held at Wembley stadium, and there is no doubting that fans are just showing up to taste a piece of America, these are diehard fans. Six out of seven years the attendances have been above 80,000 (one year 76,981), with the average attendance coming in at 82,442, not bad for a country where NFL is very much considered a minority sport. For the first time London will host two games, which has clearly been a success already (second game hasn’t happened but ticket sales have been strong) and has led to the NFL rewarding the UK fans with an extra game in 2014.
The NFL understands what they are, they know that they are a business, and a business can only survive if they have customers and expand. Every year prior to the match there is a fan fest where the fans can make a weekend of their trip to Wembley and also enjoy NFL activities and the chance to see the players up close and personal. It is almost unthinkable that a football (soccer) team would do this, and it is a great way to build and nurture a growing fan base. The Premier League should take note.
London has state of the art facilities, and the games could be held at either Wembley (which would be preferable) or at the Olympic Stadium. London is also one of the most exciting cities on the planet and is more than capable of having an NFL franchise.
So the facilities are there and it seems that there is a big enough fan base to hold and support an NFL franchise, so why wouldn’t it happen? Well the biggest issue is the travelling. Every time Wembley has held an International Series match, the two teams have had the next week off as a bye. So how would this work if there was an actual franchise there? One option would be to expand the NFL and add a European division, although this may just exasperate the problem. You could argue that the travel distance isn’t that much greater than Miami to Seattle, which would be true, but what if Seattle was playing London or vice versa. Is it really feasible? Possibly not.
Another issue with a British franchise is whether or not they would be able to fill out the stadium eight times a season. This is one of those questions that you will never know until the city has a team, but a decent percentage of those who go to the London games come from Europe (namely Germany). After all the attendances in the UK were fairly poor for NFL Europe, although that wasn’t the real NFL.
Would British fans support a London team? In American sports, franchises moving from city to city are common place, and fans from the new city tend to adopt that team. This idea is foreign to the UK, with people tending to support their team based on historical support (who your family support rather than where you live, although both tend to go hand in hand in many cases). The issue is that every NFL fan has their team, and if you like at the support in the crowd on the day of the International Series you will see all 32 jerseys being worn. I know I personally would still support the Jets over the London team if it were to happen. However I would take the London team as my second team and hope that they did well, and there lies the problem. I don’t believe that I am in the minority of thinking when I think that, and in fact many British NFL fans are actually happier with having the 1-3 games a season, rather than having a real home team.
There is also the question of whether players would want to come and play in London, with it not being in America. London is a glamorous city and the only US city that really competes with it is New York, but that doesn’t mean that players will want to play there. Imagine how difficult it will be for a London team to attract free agents or be able to sign players who are at the lower end of the roster. Also players who are cut will have harder times than those who aren’t (it’s much easier to relocate from Cleveland to Dallas for instance than from London to anywhere). An option would be to base the roster somewhere on the East coast of America and fly over for the games, but this would naturally give away any home advantage for the London team. There are also issues with visas (unlikely for players with convictions) and differences in tax that players would have to deal with.
If one team is to move over to London then it inevitably would be the Jacksonville Jaguars. For two reasons; firstly because the Jags owner Shahid Khan also owns London based football (soccer) team Fulham, so it would make sense for him to move the Jaguars over, and secondly because Jacksonville shouldn’t have an NFL team in the first place.
So how long till we see a British NFL franchise? Naturally like any situation there are pros and cons to the idea of having a British NFL franchise. There is no doubt in my mind that there would be enough support to be able to maintain an NFL, especially with the NFL growing year upon year in the UK. There are state of the art facilities that could be used for the franchise, so that is also not an issue. However it currently isn’t possible, logistically. The two biggest issues with a London franchise are with the travelling and the problem with being able to sign players to the team. To be honest it is like asking how long a piece of string is. It will take one owner who is willing to take a risk (not much of a risk however because they could potentially make a bomb [as in money]). If I were to put a number on it I would say sometime in the next 10-15 years, but it really is a guess and could easily happen as early is in 5 years, if someone in the NFL is ambitious enough.
Personally I think it is too early for this to happen; there is no need for the NFL to take an unnecessary risk which could potentially damage the brand if it is a disaster. I would also point out (as everyone seems to be) that Los Angeles should really have a team before any other city does, but that is more likely to be a team other than the Jaguars. I think that the NFL should start thinking about collecting data from those who go to the games and discovering where they are travelling from (to see whether they are local or not), to see if there is a real demand for a London team, because there would be nothing worse than giving London an NFL team only for the stadium to be half full. I’d love to see it happen eventually, but at the moment the International Series games are more than enough for us British fans to enjoy.
Although could someone tell Roger Goodell to throw a game to somewhere else in Europe? I feel really sorry for the German fans because they carried NFL Europe and really deserved to be rewarded with a game. Also what about throwing a game to Scotland or Ireland? Not every NFL fan wants to go to London for a game!
So what do you think about the idea of a British NFL franchise in London? Do you think it is only a matter of time? Or do you think it will never actually happen because it isn’t feasible? Let me know and leave a comment. Also like BM23reviews Facebook page or follow BM23reviews on Twitter, both can be found at the top of the page on the right hand side. Thanks for reading.