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London Franchise? No thanks

January 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Like all the other British NFL fans, I have thoroughly enjoyed the introduction of the annual International Series game at Wembley stadium and I myself have been lucky enough to have attended three of the games. Each year the stadium is (almost) full and the crowd are down in London hours before kick off, taking in the atmosphere of the entire day and the whole operation has proved to be a success in taping into the undoubted fan base within the UK and Europe with fans travelling from across the continent to the English capital.

On the face of it, it all sounds like the perfect build up to the much talked about arrival of a full time NFL franchise being based over here, most likely in London. However, I am firmly of the opinion that any such move would NOT be a success and I know I am not alone amongst British based fans of the sport in this belief. Here are just a few of my thoughts as to why I wouldn’t move a team over to London.

•    Travelling and Scheduling

One of the more obvious stumbling blocks the league would have to overcome is how they would compensate for a team having to play 8 games in the UK and 8 in the U.S. as well as the 8 teams having to play away in the UK. At the moment, the two teams who compete in the International Series game have their bye week immediately after. It would be impossible to leave the schedule in it’s current format with a team based in London but there would probably be a way round the problem, maybe changing the bye week system and having the UK team play a few away games and a few home games in a row to prevent constant back and forth travel. Having the team play say three or four games in a row away from home would leave UK fans on the sidelines however meaning that idea would probably be unusable.

•    The Novelty Team

The weekend of the International Series still has a novelty factor to it, both to people in the UK and the U.S. and I would expect a permanent to team to have that as a permanent issue. Taking a team out of the U.S. would basically alienate them from the rest of the league and basically make them outcasts with American fans having little to no interest in what happens to them. I would think this would be an issue when trying to sign players and draft picks also with players having to relocate to another country and be removed from the rest of the NFL. With the team being plucked out of the air and placed down in London, having no history in the UK and

•    Cultural Differences

American football (it would never be called simply football) is still viewed as a nothing sport by many in the UK with people offering the same reasons such as the stop start nature of the games and the amount of padding worn compared to rugby players. I always look to defend the game when confronted with these arguments but it just goes to show how different the game is to any other major sport in the UK. American football really is perfectly American in every way and it is that American style that attracts so many of us to the sport, but it also turns many others away. Trying to anglofy it would simply make it a side show from the real thing and would only serve to make the team further removed from the rest of the league.

The fact that the NFL season takes place between from September to the Super Bowl in February, it would have to compete with sports that have long been established as national sports within the UK, football and rugby. There is pretty much 0% chance that an NFL team placed in London would prise football and rugby fans away from attending their teams games in favour of watching an American football team they have no long standing emotional attachment with.

•    Fan Base

Whilst the level of fan interest around the International Series games has been strong each year but that interest has seemingly dropped since the first game between the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins in 2007. There were large areas of Wembley with seating covered over at last year’s game (as seen in the picture taken by myself before the game) and I fear this would be a regular sight with more and more seats becoming redundant should a team become based at the stadium.

Wembley stadium before the 2011 International Series between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears with covers over unused seats

Clearly there are thousands of NFL fans within the UK and Europe with the fan base continuing to grow but the vast majority of those fans already have their own teams that they support and would be unlikely to change their allegiance just because a team has popped up in Europe. It would also be expecting a lot of fans to make regular trips to London for the games. A day trip to London to watch the International Series is both expensive and time consuming for fans from the Midlands and the North of the UK, not forgetting those who come over from Germany, Sweden, etc. Most likely you’d have people making one off trips to games, picking a weekend when they are free to do so and whilst this combined with the ‘newness’ of the entire concept may keep the attendances relatively high initially, after a couple of years, the ‘take it or leave it’ fans will have lost interest and those who have their own teams would likely go to the game should their team be playing and not support the London side.

Football teams and rugby teams in the UK have built up their fan bases over a long history and fans pick up their teams for various reasons at a young age and stick with them through thick and thin, most of the time thin. Should a London team prove to be unsuccessful early on, you can guarantee plenty of people would lose interest as they have no emotional ties to team and why bother forking out three figure sums to go and watch them play. Whilst on paper it may seem like a great idea, all European NFL fans rallying behind and supporting a team based in London, it wouldn’t be the case. Why would an NFL fan who lives in Hull, Glasgow, Cardiff, Birmingham, Newcastle, Liverpool or Manchester for example, feel any passion for team based miles away in London when they have their own local football, rugby, cricket teams to support? It’s not like they would have any connection with the team other than the fact it is being played a couple of hundred miles down the road. It takes time to develop a relationship between teams and fans and before that can be established at a sustainable level, the bubble of interest surrounding the new attraction at Wembley may well have burst.

 
As you can clearly gather, I don’t see the reason for taking an NFL franchise away from the U.S. and bringing it over here. The International Series is fantastic and we will continue to enjoy that and the amount of coverage of we receive now is great but I really do think it would one step too far to try this. Obviously this is all just opinion and conjecture and should a team be moved into Wembley, the exact opposite could happen and you could see me writing a new article a few years down the line singing the praises of the London team after winning their first Super Bowl and saying how I always believed in them and how it could work. Who knows.

Post NFL season prediction examination

February 11, 2011 Leave a comment

As the NFL season is now at an end, it’s time to see how pathetic my pre-season predictions were which you can see in this previous post from September – https://smegheaddave.wordpress.com/2010/09/08/nfl-predictions/

Well, here are how the standings actually finished, with my pre-season prediction in brackets:

AFC East

1. New England Patriots 14-2 (12-4 – 2 games out, not bad)

2. New York Jets 11-5 (9-7 – 2 games out, not bad but underestimated)

3. Miami Dolphins 7-9 (8-8 – 1 game out, pretty good)

4. Buffalo Bills 4-12 (5-11 – 1 game out, ok but a bit generous with the wins)

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4 (8-8 – 4 games out, what was I drinking?)

2. Baltimore Ravens 12-4 (13-3 – 1 game out)

3. Cleveland Browns 5-11 (3-13 – 2 games out, not bad)

4. Cincinnati Bengals 4-12 (8-8 – 4 games out, wow they were bad)

AFC South

1. Indianapolis Colts 10-6 (13-3 – 3 games out, can I blame injuries?)

2. Jacksonville Jaguars 8 -8 (7-9 – 1 game out, alright)

3. Houston Texans 6-10 (8-8 – 2 games out, not bad but I thought this was to conservative)

4. Tennessee Titans 6-10 (10-6 – 4 games out, a rusty like Smith prediction)

AFC West

1. Kansas City Chiefs 10-6 (4-12 – 6 games out, those Chiefs are fast…)

2. San Diego Chargers 9-7 (11-5 – 2 games out, not bad but I’ll blame injuries again)

3. Oakland Raiders 8-8 (5-11 – 3 games out, underestimated)

4. Denver Broncos 4-12 (6-10 – 2 games out, not bad but overestimated)

NFC East

1. Philadelphia Eagles 10-6 (8-8 – 2 games out, not bad, this was made when Kolb was the guy)

2. New York Giants 10-6 (7-9 – 3 games out, can’t remember my reasoning for this)

3. Dallas Cowboys 6-10 (11-5 – 5 games out, doubt I was alone with this poor judgement)

4. Washington Redskins 6-10 (6-10 – NAILED IT, I love a nice predictable franchise with no drama…)

NFC North

1. Chicago Bears 11-5 (4-12 – 7 games out, yeah I’m sorry Chicago)

2. Green Bay Packers 10-6 (13-3 – 3 games out, not the worst ‘3 games out’ ever)

3. Detroit Lions 6-10 (5-11 – 1 game out, pretty good)

4. Minnesota Vikings 6-10 (11-5 – 5 games out, bye bye Brett)

NFC South

1. Atlanta Falcons 13-3 (9-7 – 4 games out, poorly underestimated)

2. New Orleans Saints 11-5 (12-4 – 1 game out, pretty good)

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10-6 (3-13 – 7 games out, maybe worse than my Chicago prediction)

4. Carolina Panthers 2-14 (6-10 – 4 games out, massively overestimated)

NFC West

1. Seattle Seahawks 7-9 (9-7 – 2 games out, not bad and I didn’t know anyone else picking them for the division)

2. St Louis Rams 7-9 (5-11 – 2 games out, not bad but clearly a bit better than I thought)

3. San Francisco 49ers 6-10 (9-7 – 3 games out, not good)

4. Arizona Cardinals 5-11 (8-8 – 3 games out, ‘3 games out’ also the Cardinals quarterback philosophy)

In terms of the playoffs, I did predict the Packers to reach the Super Bowl but I had them losing to the Colts so I can’t really claim to much of a victory in that. Anyway, roll on the new season and lets sort this Collective Bargaining Agreement out and get back to the action.

NFL clamps down on hits, what’s next, touch football?

October 21, 2010 2 comments

The recent hot topic in the NFL is the matter of illegal hits by players and how the league are looking to stamp out these illegal hits to reduce the risks of serious injuries amongst players. The league showed their current tough stance on the matter by handing out three huge fines to James Harrison, Dunta Robinson and Brandon Meriweather hitting them hard at the wallet after they hit hard to the helmet. In total, 11 players have been fined this week and the NFL have come out firing with these fines and the league has stated that fines will continue for dangerous hits with the possibility of players also being suspended.

Steelers linebacker Harrison suffered the largest fine for an illegal hit this week

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Harrison’s fine has been the biggest talking point after the player stated he would consider retiring from the game as a result of it because he didn’t feel as if he could continue to play if he wasn’t allowed to play how has done since a child. Harrison has developed into one of the premier defenders in the NFL over the last few seasons, becoming renowned for his strength and pace to beat blockers and make big hits on ball carriers and the quarterback. However, the league decided that his hit to the helmet of Cleveland Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi deemed a $75,000 fine although he was not penalized during the game for the hit. Harrison was also fined $5,000 dollars earlier in the season for a hit on Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young. Robinson and Meriweather were both fined $50,000 dollars for their hits. Meriweather was also penalized during the game with a 15 yard penalty for his helmet to helmet hit on Baltimore tight end Todd Heap and has since apologised for the hit stating that he would “play within the rules” from now on.

Clearly vexed by the fine, Harrison was excused from Steelers practice on Wednesday giving him time to sort out his emotions and so he himself could decide if retiring was what he wanted to do, although the Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin expected him back the next day, and Harrison did return to the team in preparation for the weekends game in Miami.

To many, including myself, Harrison’s reaction to his fine may seem a little over the top. Although the fine is undeniably huge, the reasons for it are understandable. In the last season or two, head and neck injuries and in particular concussions have become the big worries for the NFL as they look to increase protection to players. The rules on hits to defenseless receivers and helmet to helmet tackles have changed in an attempt to increase safety and these fines and threat of suspensions demonstrates how seriously the NFL is taking the matter.

Nobody wants to see players seriously injured during games, and the NFL will always try to improve safety to players, especially on the back of a spate of similar injuries or a major incident such as the Kevin Everett injury in 2007. Everett suffered a fracture and dislocation of the cervical spine when playing on special teams for the Buffalo Bills that was described as life threatening by doctors. However Everett did make good strides in his recovery and managed to walk out at the Bills final home game of the same season just over three months later. After Everett’s injury, the league decided that system teams used to block for kick returner’s, using a wedge made up of a number players charging down the field, was to dangerous and the rule was changed to limit the number of players allowed to form a blocking wedge to 2 players.

Although anyone can understand that player safety is of paramount importance, the NFL has been built upon tough defenders who strike fear into the hearts of opponents because they know they are going to be hit, and hit hard. Harrison is not the only defender to come out and express his disappointment and concerns about the new hard-line taken by the NFL. A number of the best defensive players, and unsurprisingly the hardest hitters in the league are worried about how the game is developing. Baltimore Ravens linebacker told NFL.com that the way things are going “the game will be diluted very quickly.” Lewis has always been a fearsome defender and he has expressed that he won’t be changing anything about his game because of the league’s official view. “My opinion is play the game like that game is supposed to be played, and whatever happens, happens”.

Another veteran defender, Arizona Cardinals’ Joey Porter told NFL.com There’s no more hitting hard. That’s what our game is about. It’s a gladiator sport”. A number of other players voiced their concerns to NFL.com including Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman “”What they’re trying to say — ‘we’re protecting the integrity’ — no, you’re not…It’s ruining the integrity. It’s not even football anymore. We should just go out there and play two-hand touch Sunday if we can’t make contact” and Miami linebacker Channing Crowder “If I get a chance to knock somebody out, I’m going to knock them out and take what they give me,” Crowder said. “They give me a helmet, I’m going to use it”.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says the league isn't changing rules, simply enforcing them.

Players are clearly worried as to how the league officials are fighting against illegal hits. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stated to NFL.com “It is incumbent on all of us to support the rules we have in place to protect players” and the leagues executive vice president, Ray Anderson agreed that tough football was what fans wanted and what the league wanted and that they are not trying to get away from that, but what the league wants is to remove the illegal and dangerous hits that can put players careers at risk.

No doubt this debate will continue throughout the season and there will probably be more fines and punishments handed out to players by the league. The debate itself simply adds to another problem to the negotiations for the new collective bargaining agreement for next season, causing more worries that there will not be any football to debate about next season.

One thing the league must do is maintain a consistent and fair approach to the punishments they intend to give out. The legality of a hit should not be judged on the outcome of that hit. If a player is injured because of a hit, it does not automatically become an illegal hit. Regardless of whether an injury occurs or not, there should be a clear distinction between the legal and the illegal.

The NFL has a long history of violent and aggressive play that has contributed to its success, not only in America but across the globe. Many fans are attracted to the ferocity of the game and whenever you see a big hit laid on a ball carrier, there is a collective gasp of awe followed by huge cheers around the stadium. I agree that it is important to try to protect players wherever possible but if players are worried of receiving serious repercussions for performing the big tackles, there is a chance that the game will become a slightly watered down version of what it once was.