Bold steps are taken when the stakes are high. Maintaining the status quo would be the easiest thing for the National Football League to do, but there is so much to gain from expanding the game’s horizons. An NFL franchise move to London would break the mold and while the logistics of a potential move continue to be debated, the possibilities of an overseas franchise can introduce multiple benefits.
Hand on heart, most British people either have no clue or a skewered idea of what the NFL is. Last year, we had another writer gave us 10 reasons why a move to London is simply ludicrous, outlining the various pitfalls and embarrassments the league could face if it all collapses in a heap.
But lets be honest, the same can be said for advocates against the move. If a franchise like the Jaguars are torn to shreds and shipped off to London then we at The Sportster would join in the outrage. However, should a brand new team with its own English identity come into the fold, all parties will gain from the added revenue and international exposure.
If fans flock in their tens of thousands to fill Wembley to see two random teams, why deny them a club to call their own? The mantra of “bigger is better” is not just a common saying, but a code to live by in America. Well it should be time to put that to the ultimate test.
So put down your tea and crumpets, pick up a helmet and set of pads and find out 10 reasons why a move to London should be given the green light by the NFL.
There are lots of NFL fans in the UK, tons in fact. According to CBS, there were 12 million supporters of the league in 2014 and that is just for those who officially register their interest. The Miami Dolphins victory over the Oakland Raiders was watched at Wembley by 88% of locals, the majority of which derived from the London area. There is a huge appetite for the sport in a part of the world that is a similar flying distance between LA and New York. It doesn’t matter if you want to call them Harry Potter’s Army or the London Dragons, you already have a massive catchment of people eager to buy jerseys and flood to London for football.
North London English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur is in the process of developing their own spanking new stadium. Spurs and the NFL have put the ink on a deal to see at least two games a season played at the venue for 10 years when the ribbon is cut in 2018, but a stadium custom built for NFL football ticks a major box. With the NFL and EPL seasons overlapping, the surface will have the capacity to perform for both sports so there is no reason why a London franchise could not host 8 to 9 games a year.
You name it – from soccer to rugby union, cricket to rugby league, World Cups and Olympic Games, English people absolutely adore their sport. Anything to get them outside and enjoy the three months a year the sunshine comes out, they will be there. Due to this passion, the activity of drinking at the pub and marching in unison to the ground is a ritual they have mastered. Throw in an efficient transport system with the London underground and the process of starting a team in the UK would be easier than LA.
A fresh pair of eyes should never be scoffed at, regardless of what you’re talking about. We all know their soccer crowds are loud, boisterous and excitable. Americans might believe they already had hundreds of years to learn from the English and take away the good parts of their culture to use, but applying their cultural quirks to the NFL would be a unique experience. So long as they don’t start serving warm beer, who wouldn’t love a pint and a serving of fish and chips during a game?
Going to church on a Sunday morning might be a ritual you engage in, but if not, how would a game at 10am sound to kick off a day packed for football? The beauty of a 5-hour time difference from London to the East Coast of America means a comfortable 3pm timeslot for British viewers translates to a perfect mid-morning game in the USA. Throw in the added revenue from an extra broadcaster and this new franchise idea is beginning to sound like a sweet deal.
Outside of the NFL, College football and the Canadian League, there are limited opportunities for footballers to strut their stuff and prove their worth on the big stage. Of the cuts made for the 2015 season to get to the 53-man roster, a lot of talent has been going unnoticed. Look at Tim Tebow, Reggie Wayne, Jason Babin, Darnell Dockett and Jameel McClain for example. There are 53 players out there who could be gathered together, along with a solid draft class, that could be a decently competitive team to begin with.
Few can complain about the draft system and free agency, giving players the flexibility to test their value in the market. But another team in the league means more young football talent moving through the conveyor belt and into the national spotlight. Footballers who might have otherwise fallen through the cracks get a chance for redemption and the possibility of opening up an English college to produce English-born players expands the pool for the franchise and the league.
Picture this: you’ve got your ticket to the big game and during your stops around London town the city is draped with images of Peyton Manning instead of Wayne Rooney, and JJ Watt instead of Eden Hazard. We know the NFL won’t usurp the Premier League in the UK, but it can bring across those casual fans who might otherwise spend their dollars on a competing sport. Remember, these days television revenue drives a huge proportion of what sports are able to do and taking some of that away from competitors is worth considering.
A bigger pie means bigger slices for everyone. For NFL clubs to sell their merchandise across Asia, Europe and around the world allows franchises to enhance game day experiences, increase salary cap room and build on overseas relationships. Supporters might not draw the parallels between marketing the brand and a better product on the field, but those working the hard hours behind closed doors will tell you otherwise.
NFL without borders – this is the big challenge that lies ahead should Goddell and co reach for global glory. We’ve established that spreading the gospel of American football would grow the brand, produce more talent and utilize a sports hungry population with the appropriate facilities to host a franchise. However the tag of “World Champions” surely has to have some merit. The hard part is not just to establish a London team, but to make it thrive. If this case study becomes a success, why can’t the NFL have a team out of South America or Asia? With the English Premier League examining the possibility of a 39th game to go global, the NFL has the resources to fight fire with fire. Whether those at NFL HQ have the ambition to do so is the real question.