NFL Edges Closer to UK-based Franchise

The United Kingdom‘s bid to play host to a permanent NFL franchise appears to be edging ever closer, potentially opening the door for other overseas teams joining the league. London’s Wembley Stadium has seen regular season International Series NFL games since 2007, with the Jacksonville Jaguars currently using the stadium to play one home game each year.

A new contract was agreed last year which means London will host regular season games until at least 2027, although many feel by that time there will already be a UK-based NFL franchise. Wembley was used for three regular season games in 2015 for the second year running, all attracting crowds of over 80,000 and proving beyond a doubt as to just how big the appetite is for the NFL across the Atlantic.

The Jaguars, who are currently contracted to play one regular season game in England’s national stadium until 2020, are owned by Pakistani businessman Shahid Khan, who also owns London-based football club Fulham. While the Jaguars chief has continued to dismiss talk linking the franchise with a permanent switch to the UK, insisting in 2014 that he had “no plans” to take the team from Florida to London, it could be that the perennial NFL strugglers will end up becoming the first team in the league based outside the U.S.

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“Wembley: NFL International Series” (CC BY 2.0) by Gaspa

On the back of their eighth straight losing season, the Jaguars seem no closer to narrowing the gap between themselves and the league’s top teams. While there is no guarantee that a move to the UK would spark an upturn in fortunes, the growing interest in the game across the pond would certainly take the franchise to a new level in terms of popularity.

The worldwide interest in the NFL, which recently witnessed Super Bowl 50, is evident in the attendances at Wembley, the international television viewing figures and the rapidly-growing number of UK fans playing NFL fantasy football and taking advantage of a DFS bonus. For the tens of thousands of non-US fans who enjoy fantasy sports, especially in the UK, the NFL is right up there in terms of popularity, and sites such as those with daily bonuses have become hugely important to players staying on top of the action. The hunger for all things NFL in the UK really highlights just how big the game is becoming across the Atlantic. The year of 2022 could be a realistic timescale for the first non-USA franchise. But for the time being, those fans will have to stick to watching the majority of games on television and playing fantasy football with their friends, although having a team in the UK in less than a decade is a genuine possibility.

The British influence in the NFL has been growing in recent years, with an increasing number of UK-born players now plying their trade against the world’s best. 2015 saw two London-born players make names for themselves, with Jack Crawford – a man who attended school with Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe – establishing himself as an important member of the Dallas Cowboys defense, while Miami Dolphins rookie Jay Ajayi ended his first season in the league with 187 rushing yards to his name.

"Jack Crawford" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Keith Allison

“Jack Crawford” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Keith Allison

Menelik Watson might have missed the entire 2015 season with injury, but the Oakland Raiders offensive tackle is expected to be a big player for the franchise next year. With former Olympic discus thrower Lawrence Okoye trying to break through the ranks with the Arizona Cardinals, we could soon see a British-born player really make a name for themselves in the NFL.

And that’s without mentioning the only Brit who played in this year’s Super Bowl: the Carolina Panthers Scottish-born placekicker Graham Gano. The 28-year old has stepped up on numerous occasions to help his team out this year, making big kicks in the Panthers playoffs wins over Seahawks and the Cardinals, and had a chance to become only the fourth British-born player to win a Super Bowl if Carolina had beaten the Broncos on Sunday night.

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