‘As popular as darts’, but would a UK NFL franchise be a success?
Under the arch, yet another sell-out Wembley crowd watched the sixth installment of the National Football League in this country. The St Louis Rams “hosted” the three-time Lombardi trophy winner’s the New England Patriots. The spectacle allowed British fans to sample the $9billion industry and immerse themselves in the American spectacle.
As Boris Johnson donned a helmet for photos with the Patriots owner Robert Kraft, amid a promise to the watching 84,000 to bring more American Football to London, would it be plausible for London to host an NFL Franchise?
The influential Kraft certainly thinks so, “you’re already hosting the Premier League, and we believe we’re the premier sport in the world,” the owner of the New England Patriot’s, told the packed crowd at Trafalgar Square. “I think London has shown, with the way they’ve handled the Olympics and every other major sporting event, that it’s time for you to have your own NFL franchise, based in London.”
The National Football League (NFL) has enjoyed an unprecedented surge in UK viewing figures, a 154 per cent rise since 2006, and multiple channels now showing live games throughout the week. However, according to sports popularity figures, American football currently lies about seventh or eighth, alongside darts.
When interviewed for NFL.com the Football Leagues Vice President of International Business Chris Parsons said, “Would the UK be able to sustain a team? For now, it’s, ‘Let’s build the fan base, so we can put ourselves in the top five in this country, so we’ll be able to have that conversation.’ For us, it’s building that fan base, getting it to that size and scale, so if there’s a future opportunity, we’re ready for it. We’re not looking at that as a short-term goal, though.
“If we continue to see the growth in the fan base we’ve seen the last three to four years, and continue to move up the rankings, and become more popular. … As long as that continues, I believe we can be in the top five within the next five years,” Parsons said.
Leaving aside the obvious logistical difficulties briefly, would such a franchise or team really be a success or even sustainable on UK soil? The team would most likely be an expansion franchise. Meaning, most importantly, they would have to find players, and would be given special dispensation in the following draft of college players but they would most probably struggle for the first ten years or so and hence be difficult in terms of marketing and revenue.
In having an existing franchise moved, the fans in the UK who currently follow a team would have to be won over. The obvious way to market it would be the United Kingdom versus America, and create a sixteen-week Ryder cup atmosphere. Whether the novelty of this would last is the important factor, if the team wasn’t winning games would the fans go? The game was over by half time on Sunday evening at Wembley and much of the crowd had departed prior to the final whistle.
Looking at the ESPN attendance figures in the Dallas Cowboys eight home games last year they totaled 684,096 supporters, the NFL would probably be looking for about half a million people to turn up to watch the London based team over the course of eight home games. The easiest way to achieve that would be to take the team on the road and truly embrace the label of the United Kingdom, host games in London, Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh evenly.
The downside of such a venture might be the loss of an identity, something the English Football League (soccer) relies upon for its continued success. Although, as Steve Wyche, an analyst on NFL Network’s morning show, “NFL AM,” so eloquently put it “If the monies flowing a teams going.” Whilst embodying the classic American enthusiasm, the NFL might just ignore the naysayers and follow the dollar signs.
It had been claimed that logistically, the Concorde would need to be back in production to facilitate a UK franchise, but as former Pro Bowl cornerback Eric Davis said “If you put a team in the East (London), its really not that different then having to fly cross country. I played in the AFC West, and travelled back and forth across the country each week.”
He went on the comment that “Owner’s make the decisions, so if they want it, it will happen. In terms of logistics it’s easier then getting a team to (re-locate) to Los Angeles. The owner is fronting up with the money, getting the Television stream in place, all the other things are just paper work.”
Having a London based NFL team to cheer on would certainly be exciting, it would face tremendous difficulties but the thought of a team with the Union Jack emblazoned upon it, running out in the ‘Greatest Showpiece on Earth’ should certainly have a number of UK NFL fans dreaming.Tagged in: NFL
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