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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.