Every football fan knows that the NFL is pushing for a London team. They have played an NFL game in London every year since 2007. This is widely viewed as a move to warm up London for a franchise. However, Roger Goodell is going about it in the wrong way, and it will ultimately fail, with the London team moving back to the United States after several unsuccessful seasons.
So how does the NFL get a European team to work? Let's start at the beginning.
Why does the NFL want a team in Europe?
The answer is obvious, money. The NFL is insanely popular in the US. I couldn't find more recent numbers, but in 2010 16 of the top 20 most watched TV events were NFL games, and of the remaining 4 one of them was the show that aired after the Super Bowl. When you're regular season games are more popular than other leagues' championships, you know you've topped out the market.
This is a problem any other sports league would love to have, but the NFL simply has no more room to grow in the US. However, the exact opposite is the case in Europe. Not only is there little to no interest in the NFL, but there is no other professional football league to compete with. Europeans also have lots of money.
All this means that if the NFL were to gain a foothold in Europe, they could significantly increase their profits.
The problems with a London team
Grantland recently wrote a good article on why an NFL team in London would be extremely difficult to pull off. I recommend reading that article, but some of the reasons include:
- The distance is great enough that special allowances would have to be made for the London team. They simply wouldn't be able to travel back and forth every week.
- Free agents wouldn't want to live there, since it's so far from their family.
- Because of the time difference, it would be difficult for London fans to watch their team play road games, especially primetime games.
The biggest problem, however, is that football just isn't popular in Europe. Sure, they sell out the international series every year. But when it's one game a year, it's easy for football fans from all over Europe to justify making the trip. When you play 8 home games a year, you won't get those fans at every game.
NFL Europe was founded in 1991, and folded in 2007. Despite the NFL's best efforts, Europeans never bought into the league. However, if the NFL truly wants to expand into Europe, they'll need to try it again, but use a different approach.
The new NFL Europe needs to not be a football league in Europe, but instead be a European Football League. The difference is that the NFL needs to create a new variant of football called European Football with different rules that will make football more appealing to Europeans.
In fact, the NFL did modify the rules for NFL Europe, by making kicking a bigger component of the game. But what they failed to realize is that Europeans don't like Soccer because of the kicking. It would be like Europeans thinking that Americans liked football because it involves throwing.
The real reasons Eurpeans don't like football are two fold:
- Football is complicated. It's not that they're stupid, but why would you bother learning a complicated game if it's not popular in your country? A simple game is much easier for new fans to get in to.
- They don't like the pace. Soccer is very smooth and continuous, while football stops and starts with lots of pauses in the action.
With that in mind, here are some rule changes that the NFL needs to make to European Football to give it a chance at being successful:
- Eliminate field goals and make safeties touchdowns, and take away extra points. This will help simplify the game by eliminating all forms of scoring besides a touchdown.
- Eliminate kickoffs. Allows new fans to focus on fewer aspects of the game.
- Reduce the amount of time on the play clock. This has the combined effect of reducing the time between plays and eliminating some of the complexities of the game by making it harder to change plays at the line.
- Make each quarter longer, but the clock never stops except for timeouts (but the game clock starts again once the timeout is over). This will give it a more soccer-like feel, and simplify the game by taking out some of the time management plays.
With these changes European Football will look a lot different from the game we're familiar with, but it would be a game Europeans will find easier to follow.
Once you have established this European Football, then it will be easier to introduce "real" football to Europeans. An NFL team located there still won't work, but European Football fans will gain an interest in "real" football when they realize that it allows for more nuance than the European Football they know, and many will start to follow the NFL.
When the fanbase in Europe becomes big enough, the NFL can start marketing the NFL to them. It would be difficult to get good ratings for live games because of the time difference, but NFL Rewind could make a lot of money so people could watch their favorite team at a more convenient time.
This is the only way the NFL can successfully take advantage of the European market. They will likely never dominate it like they do in America, but if they are willing to settle there is a real opportunity to make money in Europe.