American football has never been so popular in the UK. You only need look at the speed in which the International Series games sell out, the size of the crowds visiting Regent’s Street before the Vikings-Steelers game and the explosion of Twitter timelines on the announcement of 2014’s 3 Wembley games to prove that.
So what comes next for London? Ultimately it will be the 32 owners who decide – if they want a franchise based in the UK to expand their markets then one will come. Logistics and player discontent can be easily quieted if you thrown enough money at the problem – something NFL owners generally have plenty of! But is it really the best move for UK football fans? And is it even the right move for the NFL?
Personally I find it hard to believe that a franchise in London could ever happen while there is no team in LA. That is a huge gap in the market that needs to be filled – whether it be via expansion of relocation. Other sports succeed there – the NFL needs to address that issue. If it is through expansion then that suggests another team would need to be ‘created’ to keep the parity of teams between the NFC and AFC. This could pave the way for a London franchise at the same time.
But the NFL and owners should be careful what they wish for. It is a very different proposition to try and sell out one off International Series games against an 8 game home schedule for one side. Part of the appeal of the current format is the opportunity for NFL fans in the UK and Europe to see a wide variety of teams and players up close and personal – forking out hundreds of pounds to watch the same team time and time again is entirely different. 4 International Series games would be ‘doable’ for the majority of diehard fans in the UK – but the costs involved in ticketing and transport for another 4 on top could well prove too much. Would people really cough up upwards of £50 to watch a 3-10 team host a 4-9 team in December if they had already seen 6 games?! I would humbly suggest not – and that is the issue that the NFL needs to think about.
‘Home’ support could also be an issue – especially initially as many fans already support an American team. Would fans really cheer a London team on over their own? Personally I could never see myself wanting ‘London’ to beat the Vikings!! I guess that could change over time as new converts to the game may be swayed by a UK based team, but initially it would be tough for players and coaches in that environment.
We await the development of the NFL in the UK with interest. Who knows what the next 10 years will bring – it certainly seems strange that even a remote possibility of a franchise exists given the support for the game in the UK 10 years ago. For now, let’s just enjoy the ride and look forward to welcoming the Raiders, Jaguars and Falcons to Wembley in 2014!!