As any NFL fans living in the UK will be able to tell you, the topic of a potential NFL franchise moving to our sunny shores is never too far away from a discussion.
Big brass in New York City have made it very clear that the overall outcome of the NFL’s love affair with us soccer-ball fanatics across the pond will always be a permanent franchise based here in the UK. It’s high enough on the agenda for the NFL executives that, according to NFL Media’s Albert Breer, at the beginning of the last NFL season they met with Virgin Airlines to discuss the logistics of where air travel will be ten years from now – roughly the end of the time frame for their 15-year international plan.
With the wheels seemingly fully in motion on an NFL franchise calling London their home, isn’t it time for someone to ask, what are the biggest issues facing a potential NFL team in London?
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Wait, haven’t the ‘London Games’ been a huge success in terms of ticket sales?
The short answer is yes. Fantastically so. In fact, each and every game of the International Series held in London has surpassed the NFL’s average attendance (around 67,000) with all but two games surpassing 83,000. So what’s the problem?
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The problem is that the appeal of these games is as a spectacle. A fun day out for NFL fans living in the UK and if you’re a fan of one of the visiting teams then it’s a must as who knows when you’ll get another shot.
However, for most fans that’s purely it.
For the kind of die-hard fans of the sport that any franchise needs in order to be a success the spectacle won’t be enough to draw them to London from all over the UK once a fortnight. These die-hard fans already have their own teams and they’re not going to be dropping those allegiances, some of them forged over decades of ups and downs, just because a new team has pitched up in a city in another part of the country. Sure, some will, but probably not enough to fill the 61,000-seat stadium they’re building in Tottenham.
By whatever means London acquires its new team (expansion – very unlikely, or relocation – much more likely) chances are it’s going to be among the worst teams in the league in terms of talent it puts out on the field.
Expansion franchises usually take a while to get going whereas a franchise that relocates, is by definition a failing one and very few winning teams fail as franchises in the modern NFL.
Everyone’s likely favourite for relocation appears to be the Jacksonville Jaguars. They’ve had one winning season in the last nine and haven’t won more than five games in any of the last five years.
Granted they’ve significantly improved in terms of excitement and supportability over the last two years but a collective eight wins and 24 losses over that time isn’t exactly going to convince a nation full of Patriots, Broncos and Packers fans to convert their support. It’s easy to predict a lot of empty seats come week 12 if the team can’t win and empty seats are poison for new franchises.
This is a two-for-one.
An NFL team in London is unlikely to be actually be based in the UK, especially in the franchise’s infancy. That’s going to result in the team flying from the east coast of the US to London for every home game. Not too appealing for attracting potential free agent players and coaches or conducive to good performances on the field.
It also means a serious long-haul flight for the west-coast teams, a fact that is not going to convince the owners of those teams to want to back a London team in a vote if the going gets tough for the fledgling franchise.
Similarly, travel is going to be a real pain for the fans. As I alluded to earlier, most NFL fans are dotted around all over the country. Most don’t mind an expensive day out once or twice a year (a typical ticket and a train from Manchester would cost around £100), but eight times? That’s getting to be a question of sustainability.
The potential death nail for the franchise before it even gets going. An absolute killer and so easy for the NFL to get wrong. In fact, it’s one they’re almost certain to muck up.
The absolute last thing British NFL fans want is to be patronised with a ridiculous team name, logo and general image. Set out all the stereotypes available to the NFL to label a franchise with, which would be most annoying? The London Bulldogs? The Royals? The Tea-Drinkers? The horrific list goes on.
I can see it now: beef-eaters on the sideline, cheerleading queens, beef-stew hotdogs… actually, that last one doesn’t sound too bad…But seriously a cliché for a franchise identity is going to kill support from the UK natives.
It’s also very easy to go too London focussed and alienate the majority of fans outside of the capital, creating a lack of identity with potential fans within the UK.
Whatever the NFL does regarding putting a team in London they’re going to have to absolutely nail it in order for it to survive long-term and become an integral part of the British sporting diet and one thing is abundantly clear – there are many obstacles for them to address in order to do so.