The NFL still has plans for a London based franchise and hopes to have one in place by 2022, that's according to Mark Waller, the NFL's international chief.
"When we started (with the series in 2007), I reckoned it'd take 15 years to do it," said Waller. "That was what I expected, and we're still on course. We're at the midpoint now."
Huge love for the game in the UK
The momentum has definitely shifted. In 2007 there was only one game, a season highlight if you will, however as the years have gone by there was a second game introduced to the calendar and in 2014 a third was introduced. It is no longer a one off event in the NFL's season, it is embedded into the calendar, and it will be probably until the UK has a franchise of its own.
Weller has been working on the international business side of the NFL for some time now and has worked his way to the top (pretty much). In the offseason he was named Executive Vice President, International.
He admits that it has got to a stage where he isn't focused on how many games London holds, instead, his focus lies on making sure there will be a franchise in London, to stay:
"I'm less focused on going from three to four, four to five, five to six," Waller said. "Can we do back-to-back games? Will the surface hold up? Can we start sending teams there without the bye attached? It's not about the number anymore.... We're at a place now where if we continue to do the job with the fans, the fan base will grow, and we'll be able to have a team (in London). The questions now are logistical."
It's clear that the fans would love a franchise in the London. Interest has grown massively in recent years. Take the coverage on Sky Sports as an example. In 2007 NFL was the 18th most watched sport on Sky, now its the 6th, understandably behind the likes of soccer, cricket and rugby. People in the UK are also getting involved in the sport much more. Participation has gone up on average 15% each year since 2007.
A London franchise would have a huge fan base. It would have the potential to be one of the most supported team's in the NFL. After all it could have the whole of the United Kingdom rooting for it.
Shift in dynamic
The Sky's the limit for Weller, who wants to use the success the NFL has had in London to lay foundations through Europe or Latin America. He believes that the world has changed so much through developing technologies that the younger generations have had access to sports not usually associated with their respective nations - and he wants to take advantage of that:
"I think the real answer there is not in how the sport has changed, it's how the world has changed," he said. "When I grew up, there wasn't an Internet. There were three TV channels in the UK, and you had no idea what was happening around the world in sports, other than the World Cup and the Olympics. Now you have the world sports fan and, particularly with the younger demographic, they belong to a global community. To a young person, the idea of the NFL in the UK is not a strange concept."
Weller, clearly a very ambitious man, has a great vision for where he believes football should go. There's no arguing that the demand is there. However, logistically questions must be asked. 2022 seems quite far away, but eight years will fly by. It'll be interesting to see if Weller will get his wish.
You wouldn't want to be the one to stop him. Watch this space.
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