So the NFL plays its fourth regular season game in London this week. This comes after the league has mounted various pre-season games in cities all over the world for years. I distinctly remember the Chiefs playing the Vikings in Tokyo back in the mid 90s. There has been talk about the NLF staging the Superbowl in London. The aim of all this is, of course, to expand the NFL's appeal outside of North America. And Goodell has stated he has one ultimate goal with these regular season games in the UK: he wants a permanent NFL franchise based in London.
As the Commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell's title could just as easily be CEO -- part of his job description is to make the NFL as profitable as is humanly possible. The proposed 18 game schedule is certainly a part of that. It makes logical sense for a successful US business to try and make more money by franchising itself in Europe and beyond. McDonadls. Starbucks. The NFL would like to be a big brand in Europe.
So is it a good idea? From a fiscal standpoint it most certainly is. If the NFL wants to keep making more money, the most logical way to do that is expanding the brand overseas. Did anybody see a little movie last year called Avatar? It's the highest grossing movie both here in the States and internationally as well. Avatar made about $750 million in North American. But it made almost $2 billion in overseas markets. In other words, it made nearly 3 times as much money overseas as it did here. That's not an uncommon occurrence with American entertainment exports, that they make at least as much money overseas as they do here. For most American movies, about 60% of their total gross comes from overseas markets. If the league wants to increase revenues, an obvious means for this is to expand the game outside the US.
Are there complications with this? Oh yeah, there are some complications. The biggest one is the issue of travel. I was reading this week about the Donkeys' and 49ers' travel plans for dealing with the jet lag and how they organized their travel to play the game. I know this sound pretty fundamental, but they will also have to travel back after their game tomorrow. So traveling to the UK will affect a visiting team's play this week and also next week as they recover from jet lag. But that's just the visiting team. If you base a team in London, they will have to deal with kind of travel EIGHT TIMES a season. Nine if they adopt an 18 game schedule. Then you would have to travel for two pre-season games. And if you make the playoffs you would have to travel for non-home games as well. You're looking at a team making potentially 12 or 13 jaunts across the pond, 14 or 15 if the expand the schedule. A flight from New York to London is only a couple of hours longer than a flight from New York to L.A. But if a team in the UK had to travel from London to play in San Diego? Those guys will be logging more frequent flyer miles than George Clooney did in Up in the Air.
Would there be a fan base? So far all the games they've staged at Wembley have sold out. So there is at least some interest in it. I'm sure the NFL wouldn't go forward with a UK team if they hadn't studied its chances for success. Plus, London is a huge city, with a population of 7.5 million people. However, you have a situation in the UK where nobody plays youth football. I'm sure the NFL would be more than happy to help fund equipment for youth leagues if that would help expand the popularity. But like the rest of the known world, soccer is king in England. Could an American football team succeed in a city like London? The NFL has already failed at trying to start a league in Europe, but that is partially because the World League was a self-admitted bush league of developmental players -- the fans in Europe weren't getting the best possible NFL product.
Who would they move? Goodell has stated he doesn't want to expand the league from 32 teams, so somebody would have to get relocated to London. Who goes? What division do they play in (I would assume the London team would have to be in either of the Easts)? I know the NFL wants to move at least one team to Los Angeles (there are two different stadium plans underway, one headed up by AEG to build a stadium next to Staples downtown). Jacksonville is usually the first team people mention as a possible LA team. Who goes to London? Buffalo? If London were in the US it would be the second biggest city, nearly as populated as New York. Buffalo has a population of 270,000. One team would have to be relocated. The team owner would have to go along with it. Who moves?
Would players want to live in London? I wouldn't mind it, but you never know if a London team would be able to sign free agents. This is just me, but I would much rather live in London over the following NFL cities: Green Bay, St. Louis, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Nashville, Minneapolis, Dallas, Houston, Detroit, Indy, or Oakland. But that's just me. Would a team in the UK be able to attract talent like a team in the States? London is a great city, with as much to do and see and as much culture (maybe more) than New York. But would a player want to live there? Would a GM and coaches want to move their families there?
I don't live in KC any more, so I don't know what the atmosphere was like there for the World Cup. In LA it was pretty insane. The sports bar across the street from my apartment was serving breakfast at 6 am so fans could come in and watch the games. Most sports bars were open that early. The company I work for is based in the UK and my boss is from England. All the games were on here at work. People had their flags out, wearing their teams' jerseys around. Honestly, it reminded me of Arrowhead. And that's not even close compared to what the atmosphere was like overseas. The thing the NFL might be pushing towards down the road would be a World Cup of American football, where countries sent all star teams to compete against each other once every four years. If American football can be grown outside the US, this kind of event is possible in the future -- remember the World Cup is by far the most successful sporting event in the world.
So the NFL plays its fourth regular season game in London this week. Do you think American football can thrive outside the United States?
*I know the title is a little obvious, but I'm a fan of The Clash. So sue me.