An NFL team in London? Bad idea

Oh, the NFL is quite luxurious. So much so that the NFL’s luxury has attracted eyes from the outside. For the last few years, the NFL has entertained Britishers by hosting a few fixtures every year in London. Although it seems strange to offer American football to a public which values a football of their own, the NFL has seen success in London. As the number of matches held in the UK grows every year and British fans come to a liking of the sport, London will only be bound to have an NFL franchise of their own. But that’s problematic.

NFL on Regent Street, London” by Tony Webster is licensed under CC BY 2.0

First, if American football is relatively new in the UK, what stadium does the NFL use for these matches? Well, soccer and football playing dimensions are relatively the same, so a soccer pitch technically can be used, and has been. The NFL has managed to use Britain’s largest stadium, Wembley, granted that there were no soccer matches scheduled there. Up until last season, that worked out perfectly, as Wembley only hosted a few soccer matches every season. But around a year and a half ago, something changed within English soccer.

North London soccer club Tottenham Hotspurs, after destroying their old, classic home ground, White Hart Lane, agreed with the English Football Association (the English FA) to use Wembley for their home matches for the season. Meaning, Wembley’s pitch was to be used for soccer anywhere from once to even thrice a week.

Although based on size, a soccer pitch can most definitely be used for a football game, but the transition from one to the other is not easy nor quick. So to combat this, it would make sense the NFL schedules their Wembley matches on a weekend when Tottenham have an away match and don’t need to use Wembley. But what happens when the two parties clash in scheduling ends up in a terrible result?

Along with the painted markings on the field, the equipment which both sports play with is far different. Tough football cleats damage the grass which Wembley uses for soccer. The ground staff needs time, in the form of days, to regenerate the grass for a soccer match after a football game. But when there is a lack of time, the pitch quality is quite atrocious.

When Tottenham played Manchester City the day after the Philadelphia Eagles played the Jacksonville Jaguars, the pitch at Wembley was truly embarrassing for a Premier League level match. Forget the giant NFL logo left in the center or the blurred yard markings, the middle area of the pitch was missing a good layer of grass due to the football players from the previous day.

Therefore, if the NFL were to host a team in London, they would only run into trouble using a soccer ground and would have to make a stadium of their own. Quite costly. But here’s the bigger problem. When there is one team in London, there are 31 more teams in a completely different country on a completely different continent. Meaning, that’s eight or more times a London based team would have to travel across the Atlantic and eight or more times the other teams have to travel to the UK.

Logistically, this causes many problems. Forget travel costs, there’s also visas and security teams would have to deal with. Also, depending on where in the US you are, the UK is anywhere from five to nine hours ahead. For teams, having to travel across time zones, train and then play a game at an irregular time can be difficult for players. For fans, that means matches would be starting far earlier in the morning, leading to less viewership, and potential loss of profit for the NFL.

Also, a team in London would most likely be made up of American players as the pool of British American football players isn’t large enough for a scale like the NFL. But would the players themselves be willing to spend a good chunk of their year in the UK, away from home? With this in mind, many players would probably be reluctant to play for a London-based team.

And even if players magically agreed to play in London for such a prolonged period of time, teams can’t pay them the same amount as they would here. The cost of living in London is far higher than most American cities, along with the larger amount of taxes. In order to support a London team, the NFL would have to raise the salary cap, and doing so for just one team may be seen as unreasonable by the other 31.

So despite no matter how much the NFL would want a team outside of the US in London, they’ll keep running into large problems again and again. Perhaps, to cater to a British audience and grow American football in England, the NFL could invest in starting up a small British American football league and expand that with time. This way, interest, competition and growth and development of players will be created in the UK. But as far as the NFL itself goes, it’s best if all the teams stay within the US for mostly logistical reasons. After all, the NFL is the National Football League.

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2 comments

  1. From my experience of living in the UK, the English also view the NFL as more entertainment than sport. Don’t get me wrong, they know these guys are amazing athletes but it’s built as a spectacle with cheerleaders and fireworks. The guys at the pub believe games sell out as 2 or 3 a year but wouldn’t have a full season support for an entire 17-week season to sell out each week. Just my thoughts. Great article and valid points!

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    1. That makes sense. Here in America, sport is seen as a type of entertainment unlike the UK. Imagine trying to convince Americans to watch test cricket!

      Like

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