An NFL Franchise in London? It Won’t Work.
It sounds like a great idea on paper, right? Please the UK fans with plenty of regular football, give the US fans the chance of seeing a game in a different environment, and rake in shedloads of cash. In the minds of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and potentially Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, it’s win-win.
And whilst it’s the Jags who look like the prime candidate to move across the pond there seems to be firm plans from the NFL to drag a franchise over to London. Jags or no Jags.
But will it work? Well, the stadiums are readily available, there’s plenty of land for training pitches, the fan base already exists, the willingness of owners and players is positive, political figures back it…
No. No it won’t work.
Before I move any further, let me give you a bit of background: I’m a huge football fan who happens to live in the UK. I’m British born-and-bred, I’ve supported the San Francisco 49ers for the last decade, and I’ve seen half a dozen games at Wembley (plus a couple in SF, but that’s another story!).
Now London team or not, I’m a 49ers fan. End of story. Period. Full stop. That doesn’t mean I won’t watch the games in London — but it makes damn sure that I won’t have an allegiance to them. And I know for a fact most UK-based NFL fans feel the same way, too.
So what’s the benefit of bringing a franchise to London if fans are only going to stick by their own teams anyway? And on that token, why take the league to Brazil, Germany, Mexico and Canada, as plans revealed last week stated? If fans are only going to support their own team, why would they buy London merchandise, buy season tickets, or head to away games? If there’s no extra financial value in trying to get current football fans to back a secondary team, why would we cart a franchise out here in the first place?
So instead of bringing one franchise over here, why don’t we bring every franchise out here?
Before you ask, no, I’m not on something. And no, I’m not completely deluded. There’s grounds to this theory.
As has been proven over the last eight years, and will be proven further this autumn, all 32 teams are well-represented here in the UK. Packers fans flock down from Glasgow; Giants fans come in from Bristol; Rams fans travel down from Cardiff; Lions fans from Birmingham; Ravens fans from Liverpool; Bears fans from Manchester… The list is endless. Are these fans going to make these pilgrimages from across the UK and Europe for a London franchise every other weekend? Not a hope in hell.
But Wembley can be filled twice-over every weekend if the League appeals to the right fans. And in that sense, we shouldn’t be pushing for one franchise here, but no franchises… And just a full set of International Games.
So, here’s the theory: every team plays one home, and one away game in London in every four years. Meaning each franchise only relinquishes one home game (and therefore, home fans only lose one game out their season ticket) every four years, but play an away game in London two years later.
It would work, too. A four-year programme that enables every team (and every fan in the UK) to spend a game in London as a home team, but also as an away team. It would make the NFL a mint — and in theory, could be extended to other countries really easily. So that Brazil and Mexico thinking could come to fruition, Mr Goodell.
Intrigued? Here’s the plan.
Let’s use these (faked up, never-going-to-happen) fixtures sets as a guide…
Then, let’s break that down further, into four sets of eight…
(Can you see where this is going yet…?)
Now those sets of eight fixtures (effectively a home-field season ticket) get split down even further…
…Meaning every other weekend, a fixture is brought over to Wembley. Two games, four years. The fans are happy, the league would be happy, and the 32-team system would not only continue to work, but could thrive in a slightly different format.
So the final breakdown…
Obviously, this is very simplistic — teams would play a home game in the first year, and an away game in the alternate, allowing for two full seasons of home games for local fans, plus a further seven in each other season. Okay, so it’s different to the past 50 seasons, but it’ll allow for the league to grow, allow for more money to come into the league, and in theory, allow for teams and franchises to put more money into stadia, salaries, staffing, and the local economy.
In this system, it also means Weeks 16 and 17 remain ‘local’. So games that usually end up being crucial for the play-offs remain exactly where they should do: in amongst local, highly-invested fans. The fans that have poured thousands and thousands of dollars into their local team; that deserve to see the big, end-of-season showdowns.
It stops the huge amounts of disruption a London franchise would cause for the other 31 teams; it means the potential 5,000-mile commute is a reciprocal exercise; plus it means fans can continue to back their own team, even if the location is somewhat different.
So no, a London franchise wouldn’t work well. It would more likely destroy the National Football League. But a regular gameweek in London? Now there’s something that could be a goer…
Follow me on Twitter — I’m @AdamMillsUK.