It started with speculation. It led to action. It now (might) have traction.
Can you picture an NFL team in London, England? I, for one, cannot fathom it.
We'll get into the reasons why in a moment. While the NFL has been going to London for games for the past several years, there are still many questions about the viability of an American football team playing out of a town that lives and dies for "international" football. Are the people of the fine city of London (and conceivably the surrounding areas) flooding to Wembley and packing the stadium each time the NFL struts into town because they sincerely enjoy the North American version of football, or are they simply there because it's something new, shiny, and pretty?
The NFL continues to increase their presence overseas, even though NFL Europa was a failure back in the 90's and early 2000's. While moving a team to London represents a completely different type of challenge, there are plenty of reasons, that have nothing to do with finances, that hold as arguments against moving a team overseas (or expanding, which might be even worse).
The NFL is a mighty entity, and they probably feel they can try anything and either succeed beyond their wildest dreams or live with the loss of a couple millions the way only a multi-billion dollar entertainment corporation can. I personally would not be shocked in the slightest if the NFL someday out of the blue announces that they are permanently placing a franchise in London - and quite honestly, I won't lose any sleep over it (assuming it's not my team moving there). I can't imagine how Americans would feel about losing a franchise to a city that has only "proven itself" based on a couple of well-received regular season games.
All in all, I disapprove of the idea. I can think of at least ten reasons, but there are probably more - and while Roger Goodell won't listen to what you and I might have to say about it, one can hope he's smart enough to realize on his own why a London-based franchise is a bad idea.
10 Scheduling Issues
This issue alone is practically enough to shut down the idea of a full-time NFL team in London, as the NFL relies heavily on TV revenue. As one of the most watched sports in the world, it makes no sense to potentially lose out on American viewers who might not want to wake up a 9:00 AM to watch a 1:00 PM start in the UK. Sure, it was fun one time (this weekend the Falcons and Lions kicked-off bright and early), but will people do it on a weekly basis? Doubtful.
9 Will Players Want to Play Overseas?
If the NFL moves a team to London, that franchise will have to play by the same rules as the rest of the league. Sure they can "build through the draft," but does anyone think any high impact players will want to uproot their lives in the United States to go play in London? Signing undrafted free-agents, let alone stars, will be a challenge in itself, so building a roster will be a major challenge, which will probably bring poor results, which then leads to a loss in fan-interest and then...well, I think you see where I'm going with that one.
8 The Fanbase Isn't Big Enough
You might argue that the NFL has consistently filled London-played games with 80,000+ fans throughout the seven years of playing games there.
"There are plenty of fans in London, look at those numbers," you might say.
Take it from the league itself then. MMQB.com writer Don Banks wrote this earlier this season: "This week the NFL’s managing director of operations in the United Kingdom, Alistair Kirkwood, suggested it would require a 'tripling' of the current football fan base in order to support a team full-time in London."
It took long enough to build the fan-base the NFL has in London today - how long will it take to triple it? Too long to consider moving to London, most probably.
7 American Football Has Already Failed in Europe
As discussed in the intro, NFL Europa (or NFL Europe, or World League, or whatever you want to call it) didn't work the first time around and the NFL was losing significant amounts of coin just to keep it afloat. It was Goodell who mercifully plugged the plug on the operation, so why would he suddenly decide to go back overseas? While the argument can be made that NFL Europa was more of a development league than anything else, there were still some solid players in that league (some who've gone on to respectable NFL careers).It was a good enough product to get a gauge on European fan interest, and it was a bust.
6 There's No Talent Base Overseas
If college, or even high school football, was anywhere near what it is in the United States (or even Canada, for that matter), then maybe there would be an argument to be made for moving a team to London. The issue of convincing players to play in London would be moot if there was an already established and significant talent pool to pick from in London. If the NFL moves a franchise to London, they better be prepared to not just go all-in on professional football, but football all over England (and perhaps all of Europe). They'll need to begin to instill a football culture into a younger generation of Londoners and convince them to switch their AdiZeros for Under Armour football cleats. If the NFL thought NFL Europa cost them a lot of money, they better be ready to dig even deeper in their pockets for this trip overseas.
5 Bye Weeks
Every time a team heads over to London for a game, they usually end up having a coinciding bye week to recover from the jet lag. That makes perfect sense.
What doesn't make sense is having to dole out the bye weeks based on whether or not the team played in London the week before. While it may seem as simple as tinkering with the schedule, it's not. The NFL makes their schedule based on a formula that is based on strength of schedule from the prior season to try and manufacture parity, and that won't change. Then there's the fact that every team already has a bye week to begin with. All in all, it would be more of nuisance than anything else to deal with scheduling around teams travelling to London.
4 Soccer Will Always Come First
As was mentioned earlier, the NFL will need to significantly increase its London fan-base before the NFL can truly consider moving a team overseas. It wouldn't shock me if the NFL was pompous and arrogant enough to think it can overtake the English Premier League in England, but common sense would suggest that there's no point in even trying to compete. The NFL might win on any given Sunday, but if it's a weekly decision, the smart money has it that Londoners will be spending their disposable income (and time, for that matter) watching their version of football.
3 A Diluted Talent Pool
One suggestion that has been proposed over the years is that the NFL will look towards expansion, as opposed to relocation, to facilitate a move to London. While it may justify putting a team overseas, it doesn't justify the massive dent the NFL's talent pool will take. With 32 rosters to fill and injuries knocking out players every week, general managers will have to reach deeper and deeper into the scrap heap for players to fill out their rosters every week. The worst teams in the league have proven year in and year out, that there's already not enough talent to go around as it stands. Potentially adding two more teams will simply hurt the overall product.
2 Los Angeles is Ready for Another Shot
How anyone in their right mind can be proposing an NFL team across the Atlantic Ocean when one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the United States has been without a professional football team since 1994 is beyond me. Los Angeles is primed and ready for another opportunity to house an NFL team. They already have a legitimate history with the league, would no doubt be another revenue generating machine for the NFL, and would add to the rivalries that have already been established along America's West Coast.
1 It's Called American Football for a Reason
I am a proud Canadian, but I want no part of the National Football League north of the border - partially because it could severely threaten the already teetering Canadian Football League, but because there's something purely American about the NFL that makes it feels almost treasonous to have a team placed anywhere other than an American city. There's no country that can do football the way Americans do, and while I'm all for growing awareness and promoting the game around the world, I can't agree that having an NFL team in London would be a good move.