24 October 2017

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NFL Franchise in London – Should It Happen

The sixth annual international series game has been and gone and with the announcement of two regular season games, which takes place in the capital next year, speculation is that a London franchise can not be too far away.

The general response to this news from NFL fans in the States is a negative one and is quick to criticize Commissioner Roger Goodell for exporting the brand worldwide (it is the national football league after all). Fans in the UK are more positive about the move than ever before and would love the opportunity to see the superstars of the sport eight times a year. But with many still skeptical about a London franchise in the States, will it ever get the green light? If so, would it be logistically possible to be a success? And if a failure, what would that do for the coverage and popularity of sport in the UK?

There is no doubt in my mind that the UK is ready for an NFL franchise. The regular season game held at the Wembley Stadium has been 6 years running now, TV coverage in the UK is constantly improving and the announcement of two games next year only cement further the popularity of the sport in this country. I am tired of reading the same nonsense in the US media that we do not understand what happened on the field is that we are cheering in the wrong places and the general atmosphere in the games is stale.

This could not be farther from the truth and is really just lazy journalism. If US media officials and naysayers generally had the time to actually talk to NFL fans in the UK, they would soon realize that we are actually very well informed about the sport. The idea that we cheer during the game at the wrong times is also garbage. The match between the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots at Wembley last Sunday was always a split-set. The Rams may have been the Heymannschaft, but the Pats have a great entourage in this country, so the reaction of the crowd was always mixed. Combine this with the fact that the game was a blowout and rose out of hand quickly meant that the crowd could say that the contest was more or less over half time, so why the atmosphere was somewhat muted in the second half , Let’s not forget that because we only want to organize one game a year, the fans just want to see an action. Therefore, a touchdown is always cheered, whether it was shot by the Heanannschaft or not.

I can also tell you that I have never really found the Wembley Stadium to have an incredible atmosphere (it certainly is not a Lambeau field). The atmosphere in 80,000+ capacity stages is always lost in the sheer size of the venue. Cowboys Stadium is an impressive stadium as a spectacle, but the atmosphere comes as non-existent sometimes. In fact, if a franchise in London was going ahead, it would be in the leagues best interest to get the games in the Olympiastadion. The atmosphere in the stadium during the summer games was electric and would be a far better choice in terms of selling 8 regular season home games. This morbid belief in America that we do not know what we are talking about has to be put into bed because it is really embarrassing.

The only thing that really worries me about a London franchise is the logistics that make it a success. The sellout of the games and creating a hype about the franchise in this country would not be a problem. The problem is to create hype and enthusiasm in the States, all of which are connected with sport. It seems that only the smaller teams in the league are ready to give up a home game and make the long journey across the Atlantic for the annual regular season game. Would the Green Bay Packers or the Pittsburgh Steelers give up a home game in London? No chance.

For the move to work effectively, the London franchise would have to play four or five home games in a row before traveling to the States to play a series of games on the street. Journeys seem logistical like the biggest problem here, but when you look at the trip that East Coast teams are doing when they are playing West Coast teams (or vice versa), there really is no big difference in the travel season. Therefore, logistics travel should not be a problem. It is more the response of the NFL community in the States that continue to hinder the progress of a franchise abroad. But with Commissioner Goodell, the constant praise of the British NFL fan base, and even New England Supremo Robert Kraft, who is paramount with his approval of a London franchise, it seems inevitable that it will happen somewhere on the road.

With the constant success of the international series and the prospect of more games to come, I predict that an NFL franchise will be here in the next decade. If it had happened, I would certainly go for the chance to buy a season pass. I enjoy my annual pilgrimage to Wembley, but a game a year is just not enough and many other fans in the UK feel the same. My main concern about a franchise here is the prospect that it will fail. The league has tested the water before with the launch of NFL Europe, which turned out to be a complete bomb.

If a London franchise would fail, what would become of the sport in this country? Would be the coverage of sports waste? Perhaps more disturbing, the league would also pull our international series games? It is a definite possibility. But this looks a bit too much in the future. Let’s just enjoy the crest of popularity the sport rides in this country and see where this crazy wave brings us. Just do not say the British do not know what we’re talking about, because that sharpens our gears.

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