Could a UK NFL Franchise become a reality?

Ever since the Miami Dolphins played the New England Giants at Wembley Stadium, London, England in October 2007, the possibility of an NFL franchise relocating to the UK capital has been a periodic topic of debate among NFL fans on both sides of the Atlantic.

Since that historic occasion, which was the first time that an NFL game had been played outside the USA, there have been 25 NFL games based on foreign soil, of which 23 were played in London. And next season there are four more fixtures slated to be staged in the UK.

The Jacksonville Jaguars, who have been regulars in London, are set to play in the UK again, along with seven other NFL sides and NFL fans who’ve picked up a Points Bet Deposit Bonus and who feel that the game in London could be a springboard for a special Jaguars season, can wager on Jacksonville at big odds to win Super Bowl LIV.

But how realistic is a London NFL franchise? Within NFL circles, there is talk of such a development happening by 2022. In fact, Mark Waller, the organization’s executive vice president, has suggested that with the existing collective bargaining agreement due to end in 2020 and the current NFL media deal running out in 2022, that two year period was a logical time frame to consider a London expansion. He has also pointed out that 29 of the 32 NFL franchises have played in the UK:

“The fact that they can see it, touch it, play it, know that works, know they can travel back and be competitive in their seasons, I think we’re closer than ever.”

There is no doubt that there is plenty of demand for NFL fixtures in the UK. When the Seattle Seahawks-Oakland Raiders game was moved from the original 60,000 seater stadium in north London to the 80,000 venue of Wembley last autumn, the additional 20,000 seats quickly sold out, setting a new record for an NFL London game. In the same spell of international fixtures, the record was broken again when 85,570 fans watched the Philadelphia Eagles-Jacksonville Jaguars game. In fact, last season, only Dallas staged games with bigger attendances.

It has been suggested, not least by London mayor Sadiq Khan, that London could host the Super Bowl, that is an unlikely prospect, given time zone issues. But a London-based franchise is considered much more likely, though there are considerable logistical issues to resolve.

It is likely that a London franchise would play its home games in blocks, with a series of home games, followed by a period on the road, and then another block of games in the UK. A London franchise would also need to have a base in the US, to give them a center of operations for training and preparing ahead of their eight games on US soil, as well as any play-off progression.

The location of a London franchise also appears to boil down to two choices. The fact that the Jaguars’ owner, Shad Khan, had been interested in purchasing Wembley Stadium, suggested a Jacksonville-Wembley link-up would be the starting point for a UK expansion, but that purchase bid was withdrawn last autumn, which was good news for Tottenham Hotspur. The UK soccer club is close to opening its new 62,500-seater stadium, which has been designed partly with the NFL in mind, including a retractable pitch and outsize dressing rooms. The club itself has also been making a big NFL push, selling a range of NFL merchandise in its stores.

There are also obstacles to overcome before any such London-switch occurs. The NFL is unlikely to contemplate expansion in the near future, which means that an existing franchise owner will have to take a leap of faith and meet the risks of relocation head-on. A move to London would also require extensive renegotiations with players and their representatives as it would entail a change in working conditions. On the plus side, Brexit could make an NFL London team easier, as the competition’s draft system and revenue-model may have conflicted with European Union law.

Play-off logistics would be another problem. The possibility of a west-coast team such as Seattle being forced to play in London one week then back in the US the following week is less than ideal and finding a way to ensure that no-team is advantaged, or disadvantaged, will be a crucial part of any preparations for a London franchise. But there is no doubt, based on the evidence of the latest NFL games in London, that UK fans would embrace any franchise that took the trans-Atlantic plunge.

AFI
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