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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.

The NFL and Los Angeles, a never ending story?

December 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Ever since the Raiders and the Rams left Los Angeles in 1994, a host of teams have been linked with moves to the second biggest media market in America. The NFL would no doubt welcome a move to Los Angeles with the potential financial benefits a team would bring and a team in Los Angeles would be nothing new with the city having a long and eventful history within the NFL.

In 1946, the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles to play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Remaining in the Coliseum until 1979, the Rams became a successful franchise however they struggled to sell out the Coliseum causing blackouts on local TV and when they were unable to build a new stadium with Los Angeles they moved down to Anaheim in Orange County.

Anaheim Stadium, home of the Rams before their move to St Louis

The Coliseum wasn’t without an NFL team for long however as Al Davis moved the successful Oakland Raiders down to Los Angeles, regardless of the fact he didn’t receive the approval of either the Commissioner or his fellow owners. Davis wanted to take advantage of the potential TV and media market in Los Angeles and moved the Raiders into the Coliseum despite its numerous flaws as a football stadium. The stadium was developed and improved in the late eighties and early nineties but Davis never got the full lucrative amenities he was hoping

for in Los Angeles and in 1994 he agreed to a new stadium offer in Oakland and moved the Raiders back to their former home.

1994 also saw the Rams move away from Los Angeles with the team languishing behind other NFL teams in revenue and stadium developments such as luxury boxes. Luxury boxes generate huge income and both the Rams and Raiders stadiums were lacking behind a lot of other venues in the NFL. With Rams owner Georgia Frontiere talking with prospective cities such as St Louis and Baltimore, Rams fans voiced their concerns. Combined with poor performances on the field attendances continued to drop off and the Rams were eventually relocated to St Louis.

Both teams had been linked with moves away from Los Angeles well ahead of time problems such as dwindling attendances at games causing major concern. In 1993, the Los Angeles Business Journal reported that the average attendance at NFL games during the season was over 63,000 whilst the Rams were averaging 48,000 and the Raiders around 41,000. At the time, sports analyst Michael Megna stated that the average attendances were well below the accepted average for that of a healthy franchise however he also believed neither team would leave “But I really can’t see anyone leaving a lucrative market like Los Angeles, even though the two teams could be doing better.”

Despite the undoubted market in Los Angeles, both teams did move on and ever since the city has been mentioned as a potential new home for a number of franchises. Almost instantly after the departure of the Rams and the Raiders, franchises such as the Cleveland Browns were rumoured to be moving in to take their place. However, the Browns moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens in 1996 with a new Browns team returning in Cleveland in 1999. The Los Angeles factor has since been used as a bargaining tactic by franchises that need stadium developments approved by their cities or want to generate more supporter interest. For example, in 2004 the Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay visited the Southern California area with rumours surrounding the team’s relocation to Los Angeles. Although these rumours remained simply as rumours, the Colts reached a deal for a new stadium in Indianapolis.

Since teams being linked with Los Angeles is nothing new in the NFL, is this year any different? So far this season teams such as the San Diego Chargers, Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills and St Louis Rams have all been rumoured as potential Los Angeles franchises. Are any of these rumours at all realistic?

Jacksonville Jaguars

Attendance issues have been a major factor for the Jaguars in an NFL market that appears to dwindle. Jacksonville have had a number of games blacked out over the years with the team failing to sell out the stadium and since 2005 vast areas of the stadium have been covered over with tarp to lower the official capacity and reduce the blackouts. With one of the smallest markets in the NFL combined with the Jaguars being near the bottom of the league in attendances, season ticket sales and merchandise sales in recent years and seeing as the major driving force in the NFL is money you could suggest that the Jaguars would definitely benefit from relocation to Los Angeles.

Attendance problems are a constant feature at Jaguars home games

Another thing to consider is that the Jaguars have only been established since 1995 so it’s not like they have particularly strong historical links with the city that would make it harder to move the team.

The Jaguars have been the most talked about team that could be relocated yet in the summer, Commissioner Roger Goodell visited Jacksonville and stated “The NFL wants to be part of the future of this city” and Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver is eager to keep the Jaguars in Florida.

It seems that the Jaguars will remain in Jacksonville for the foreseeable future but whilst they still struggle to sell the team to the locals and fail to sell out their home games they will always be included within discussions about relocation, be it to Los Angeles or anywhere else.

Buffalo Bills

Similarly to Jacksonville, Buffalo is one of the smallest markets in the NFL. However, unlike the Jaguars in Jacksonville, the local community is passionate about their football team. With the team playing in Buffalo since 1960, the Bills have developed generations of loyal fans within the Buffalo area whereas the Jaguars have struggled to do this over their short history. Of course, with the recent poor seasons from the Bills, the interest in the team has been put to the test. In 2007 and 2008 the Bills average attendance was just over 71,000, with a slight drop off in 2009 to 70,000. The 2010 season has continued to see the team fail on the field and the average attendance has slipped down to 64,000 according to ESPN.

Bills owner Ralph Wilson has always remained committed to keeping the Bills in Buffalo, however with Wilson now 92 years old, questions around the Bills future in Buffalo will continue to arise. The Bills stadium is also relatively ancient, with the first game played in 1973, compared to a lot of the newer stadiums across the league and a state of the art stadium in Los Angeles would need to be taken into consideration.

Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Bills since 1973

The Bills have moved into playing a home game once a year at the Rogers Centre in Toronto since 2008. If the Bills were to relocate in the future, Toronto would possibly be a more viable market for them to move into rather than Los Angeles.

Would the Bills be a good fit in Los Angeles? Maybe not, and as long as Ralph Wilson owns the team they will probably remain in Buffalo. Like the Jaguars they will be one of the teams in the discussions about franchise movements, but with a passionate market already in Buffalo, albeit small, the Bills seem a safe bet to remain in Buffalo.

St Louis Rams

The relocation of the Rams to Los Angeles seems to make a lot more sense than either the Bills or the Jaguars on the face of things. Firstly, there is the history of the Rams in Los Angeles as we’ve already looked at. Secondly, the current stadium is in need of plenty of renovation and with the stadiums lease running out in 2014, if the Rams under new owner Stan Kroenke are not offered a new stadium deal the Rams may not be long for St Louis especially if there is a new state of the stadium ready and waiting in Los Angeles.

Adding to the uncertainty about the team’s home stadium, supporter attendances have continued to be near the bottom of the NFL. No doubt in large part to the team being one of the worst performing in the last decade since winning the 1999 season Super Bowl and losing it two years later. The Rams have had one winning season in the last nine and have finished bottom of the NFC West, often labelled the worst division in football, in the last four seasons. St Louis has let go of a losing team before with the St Louis Cardinals moving to Phoenix, Arizona in 1988 after a string of losing seasons and falling attendances with an outdated stadium.

If issues such as the stadium cannot be resolved by the franchise and the city, the team may well be an attractive proposition for potential owners looking to relocate. With the team up for sale for a while last year, this would’ve appeared much more likely. However, with Kroenke taking full control of the team in August 2010, St Louis’ franchise seems more secure. Kroenke stated after completing the deal “I’ve never had any desire to lead the charge out of St. Louis. That’s not why we’re here. We’re here to work very hard and be successful in St. Louis” and with the team obviously improving under second year head coach Steve Spagnuolo and rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, interest in the team may start to increase around the city. The future of the franchise in the city does seem to rest on the stadium debate over the next few years.

San Diego Chargers

Earlier on in the year, former basketball star Magic Johnson teamed up with an investment group looking to bring a team to Los Angeles, and the Chargers were on the radar. More recent rumours around the Chargers have involved billionaire Philip Anschutz purchasing a 35% stake in the team with the intention of moving them to a new stadium he plans to build in Los Angeles. Unlike the Rams, Bills or Jaguars, the Chargers have been relatively successful although they haven’t managed a Super Bowl. The issue for the Chargers is not a losing team struggling to cope in the local sports market; it is the issue of a new stadium. For years now, fans and the local media have been desperate for new stadium, not just to provide better facilities for the team but to also make sure the team remained in San Diego.

The Chargers have been threatening to bring long awaited sporting success to San Diego and they still continue to be touted as one of the most talented teams in the NFL. With only the Chargers and the Padres Major League Baseball side, San Diego has been crying out for one of their two teams to achieve success. The Padres moved out of Qualcomm Stadium in 2003 into the newly built PETCO Park whilst the Chargers still remained in the outdated stadium. A new football stadium would not only keep the franchise in San Diego, it would also become involved in hosting Super Bowls. A warm weather location combined with a new state of the art stadium would be a perfect Super Bowl destination for the NFL.

Potential design for the new Chargers stadium in San Diego

The threat of losing the Chargers has led to talk of a new stadium increasing in San Diego. If this lack of a new stadium continues on, the morelikely the Chargers are to move across to Los Angeles with prospective buyers such as Anschutz becoming involved with the franchise. They have the team, they have the fan base, and all they need is the stadium.

Minnesota Vikings

Along with the Chargers, the Vikings are in need of a new stadium with the lease on the Metrodome, their current stadium, running out in 2011. Whilst the discussions around a new stadium continue, the Vikings have been approached by groups looking to bring a team to Los Angeles. Vikings Vice President of public affairs Lester Bagley stated “Yes, we have been approached by two different groups in Los Angeles – the Ed Roski group and more recently by former Timberwolves CEO Tim Leiweke and AEG”

The Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is aiming to keep the team in Minnepolis but the stadium is still only at the proposed stage still and as long as this remains up in the air, the Vikings will be linked in the same discussion as the Chargers for potential moves to Los Angeles.

As long as Los Angeles remains without an NFL team, there will always be franchises linked with the city. Although these five teams have all been heavily linked with relocation, the media power of Los Angeles may well help to fuel these discussions and until anything does occur all this remains as speculation.