For all of you NFL fans out there you can see the success of teams playing a regular season game in London, England. I mean, ratings are up, the games sell out and this season there is 3 games being played there. The New York Jets vs. Miami, Buffalo vs. Jacksonville and Detroit vs. Kansas City. Jacksonville will continue to play a game in London every season over the next few years. This trend shows you just how much the NFL loves money.
I mean if Europeans are willing to pay money for tickets to a sport they barely understand, why not do it as many times as possible? Of course with the increased frequency in games being played overseas the question gets asked, will the NFL move a franchise, or expand to London? For the sake of the game Americans love so much hopefully the answer is no, but would moving a team to England work for the globalization of the NFL? Well it would definitely get the world to take notice of the sport but I’m here to tell you why in the long run it just won’t work.
We all know that soccer is the world’s game, every country around the world seemingly has its own leagues and tournaments and those people who are aware of the NFL, or just the game of American football know that it can be confusing unless you actually commit to playing it. But the casual fan probably won’t take the time to study game tape, learn the subtle nuances of the game we as Americans find so fascinating. The culture of sports is different everywhere. I mean you have Yankees/Red Sox in baseball, an old rivalry that started in 1901. There have been fights, high drama, and an 86 year old curse. Bruins/Canadians in hockey, two of the original six teams in the NHL have had intense games and high playoff drama meeting in game 7 of a playoff series 8 times, more than any other opponents in NHL history. The NFL’s equivalent is Packers/Bears. George Halas vs. Vince Lombardi, Aaron Rodgers vs. Jay Cutler, to a certain extent, but these two teams hate each other and they’ve had a long time to develop the rivalry. If the NFL does move in on London’s sports market then they will have to compete not only with their nation’s pastime but the most heated rivalry of them all, Manchester City vs. Manchester United.
The Manchester City and Manchester United rivalry has lasted for 128 years, with pre-match banter from City fans pointing out that United doesn’t come from Manchester, they are outside the city limits. But when you look back to Saturday, November 12, 1881, the first meeting between these two teams, this was a friendly match when each team played for the sake of playing. After World War II fans started picking sides and the intensity picked up to the point where in one instance a players leg was broken during the match and later had to be amputated. This rivalry has a name and it’s the Manchester Derby. There have been 169 matches between these teams. United has won 70 and City has won 49, with 50 games ending in a draw. The NFL has nothing in their history that can come close to this rivalry, and the Manchester Derby captivates all of England. Now understand that Manchester is about 200 miles north of London, just about a 3 and a half hour drive, but this intensity can be felt as if you were there. Not to be forgotten in this is that London has 6 Premier League teams in its city limits all of whom have rivalries themselves. Arsenal/Tottenham, Chelsea/Fulham, Millwall/West Ham United, and the list goes on and on, this is what the NFL would be casually walking into, essentially bringing a knife to a gun fight.
Not only will the NFL have to develop a rivalry the fans want to see they are going to have to compete for advertising as well. Now granted there are many sponsors that advertise around the world that represent the NFL and the Champions League teams. I mean the NFL and NFLPA have 32 sponsorship partners that you see on TV broadcasts all the time, and not just Fanduel and Draft Kings. Campbell’s soup, Pepsi, Gatorade etc. going into a global market you have to have sponsorship that will put your brand out there and make the merchandise appealing for people to buy. Now you are getting mostly into clothing and apparel. Nike is the provider of NFL gear in America and Nike is also a big provider of gear in the soccer world along with Adidas and Puma. So this would imply that Nike could only stand to make more money if they were to market for example NFL and FIFA jersey’s together. Now in order to sell products in the marketing world it helps to have a spokesperson to promote your products, and the NFL has such spokespeople such as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. These Superbowl winning QB’s hae tremendous marketability, you see Drew Brees in Wrangler, Pepsi, and Verizon commercials and Peyton Manning drives a Buick, eats Papa John’s and wants you to have Direct TV and Nationwide insurance. But how many people in Europe of just England care about driving a Buick? They have other cars available to them, and Direct TV hasn’t cracked the English television market yet. Now the list of sponsors dwindles to those that have developed a relationship with Europeans.
Nike and Pepsi are two of the most popular sponsors that share interests home and abroad. I mean you can have powerhouse ad campaigns with some of the world’s most popular soccer and football players. For Pepsi you could have Drew Brees and Manchester City star Sergio Aguero share a can, or have Odell Beckham Jr. and Lionel Messi compare how Head and Shoulders makes their hair feel. But maybe since you want the English audience you would have Wayne Rooney with Aaron Rodgers and Calvin Johnson pushing Nike. All of these players have been spokespeople for these companies so it stands to reason you’d try to blend them together to unite the general public. As far as star power goes the top five highest paid soccer players are: David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and Wayne Rooney. The top five highest football players are: Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Joe Flacco, and Peyton Manning. Drew Brees makes about $600,00 more than David Beckham and Aaron Rodgers makes about one million less than David Beckham but more than the rest of the soccer players. So it’s apparent that these players are marketable. You can see more of the soccer players in the US because of the EA Sports video game FIFA ’16. Lional Messi is on the cover of the game and in those commercials. Not only would you have advertising to do, have you ever seen pictures of these soccer stadiums when empty? They have ads of products on the seats! When you look at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, there is Coca-Cola logos painted over the entire lower level that stretches the length and width of the stadium. I’m honestly surprised the NFL hasn’t been doing this for years, or at least Jerry Jones.
The NFL will not have to just worry about sponsorships, they’ll have to worry about the competition with the Barclay’s Premier League, the most popular league in the world, and the other soccer leagues around Europe. Spain has La Liga, ad clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona. Serie A in Italy has the club Inter Milan, and Ligue 1 in France has the club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). These clubs travel to play the clubs in England and in the greater London area there are 6 clubs! Not to mention that there is the Europa League, a competition for all qualifying English teams. So the NFL would have the most diverse product in the area to say the least, but having just one NFL franchise there would be a lot of advertising for that marketing department. Not only are you competing with the clubs that dominate that area you have to compete with their schedules too. League games are normally Saturdays and Sundays and the English league plays a “Monday Night” game which is played in the late afternoon and Europa League games are played on Thursdays. So that means the London NFL team would play 8 games at home competing with league games on Sundays, or plays at home on a Thursday and compete with Europa League games. Of course you have the 5 hour time change to deal with, and because all the games in the NFL are on Eastern Standard Time that means Sunday night, Monday night and Thursday night games if kickoff was 8:30PM EST, that’s 1:30AM London time. Or you move the time back maybe 2 hours to 6PM EST to make it a reasonable 11PM in London. Sunday games played in London have had a 9:30AM EST start time, like the Bills and Jaguars will have on October 25th. But if you kept it at 1PM EST, that’s 6PM London time. 4:05PM EST kickoff games would be 9:05PM London time. All of these would either conflict with League schedules or be too late to be played and surely affect attendance.
NFL.com’s Albert Breer had a great article on the NFL in London, and how the NFL is planning on a franchise being in place by 2022. Basically they expect planes to be able to travel faster by then. 2007 was when Wembley Stadium hosted NFL teams, and it was a 15 year plan leading to London getting its own franchise by the end of it. Breer also writes “The Jets-Dolphins bout was Wembley’s 12th NFL game — the first one matching divisional opponents, and also the first time that both clubs traveled only for the weekend. In past years, one or both teams would spend an entire week across the pond. The 13th and 14th games, coming on the last Sunday of October (25th) and first Sunday of November (1st), will be the first games played on back-to-back weekends in London. And all of this is aimed at measuring the impact that a U.K. franchise would have on competitive balance. Naturally, more is planned for 2016. The league likely would’ve gone to four games this year if not for scheduling issues involving the Rugby World Cup, and it’s a very good bet there will be (at least) four international games next season. The question, for now, is where? The NFL is considering either adding another game in London, keeping it at three in London and adding another game in another country, or both. The two countries under consideration, outside of the U.K., for a new International Series game in 2016 are Germany and Mexico. If it’s Mexico — and stadium issues remain there — it’ll be in Mexico City. If it’s Germany — and the NFL’s new media deal makes that marketplace more attractive for the owners — it’ll be in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt or Hamburg.” The NFL will look to remove the automatic bye that teams get after going to London, since a franchise there would have to be able to play back-to-back weeks. Another plan is teams playing two games in a row in London one as the home team and another as the road team to see how it affects players, coaches and staff making the trip back west rather than just east. There is also an idea to have London host a playoff game, maybe even a Superbowl. More logistical hurdles to clear before that happens but if 2022 is the target year for a team, then there’s 7 more years to go.
Attendance is another thing that makes and breaks an NFL team, and the NFL is averaging at least 40,000 fans at Wembley for the 3 games played this season but using Premier League attendance data for 2012-2013 for clubs in the 2013-2014 Premier League Manchester United average attendance was 75,530 and their stadium seats 76,212. That’s a capacity of 99.1%. Second best capacity in the Premier League. Arsenal, located in London, had an average attendance of 60,079 and their stadium holds 60,355 which is a capacity of 99.5%, best in the Premier League. Now with 5 other teams to compete with in the area, how is there going to be enough people left to go to an NFL game that starts the same time locally, if not much later in the evening, as the league games do? I mean looking at last year’s NFL attendance, the best attendance is obviously “America’s Team” the Dallas Cowboys at an average of 80,645. Although this number may not be hit by other NFL teams you have to account that AT&T Stadium can hold over 105,000 people. But looking at that capacity it’s only 76%. The New York Giants and the Denver Broncos have a 93% stadium capacity, their stadiums holding on average 76,870 and 72,361 respectively. Relatively every game these NFL teams play is a sellout, but every game Premier league plays is going to sell out, no chance of blackout games for them.
With all of this talk of an NFL team in London there is a lot you have to think about, some of the things I’ve already mentioned, but most important thing is actually putting a team there, so who would go? Expansion could be a possibility if 2022 is the target year but assuming that won’t happen that leaves relocation and I think the likely team to leave its current city for London would be the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Chargers and Raiders want a timeshare in Los Angeles, and the Rams want to hoard the City of Angels all to themselves, assuming they escape St. Louis, but the Jags went from a consistent playoff contender to picking in the top 10 in the NFL draft. It would make sense, they are already going to play a game in London every season for the length of the deal, and their owner Shad Khan also owns Premier League team Fullham F.C. which is located in London. Now where would they play if the team did move overseas? Well, Tottenham is going to build a new Fied Turf stadium in the future with the likelihood of housing an NFL franchise, but until that happens I would suspect there would be great fan upheaval if the Jags played at Craven Cottage, home of Fullham F.C. plus it only holds 25,000, not big enough for an NFL team, so it would more than likely be Wembley Stadium in London, home of the Premier League Championship game and can house 90,000 people. That could be quite the home field advantage, especially since we know how crazy soccer fans can get.
Fans need something to cheer for at games to get the wild and crazy so who would you cheer for on the Jags? Blake Bortles is the franchise QB, TJ Yeldon is the running back. Maybe Allen Robinson is the franchise wide receiver. Julius Thomas excited in Denver but has yet to play more than 1 game for the Jags so far. But you have to find a marketing identity for the fans to buy into your team contending and winning championships and this team, right now, doesn’t have the players who are widely recognized. Europeans never got into NFL Europe because it was centered around Germany, the rules were different than the pro game and after the first 2 seasons there was a 2 year absence so Europeans just lost interest. The NFL kept throwing money at the problem and it went down the tubes and the league folded. The fans need something to teach them why the game is different, they are used to the nonstop movement of soccer, there are no commercial breaks during matches, the NFL, with every stoppage we cut to a beer or car commercial then come back. The fans love the big plays and the drama of close games but the constant stopping takes them out of the game and with fans watching from home the NFL broadcasts in America have commercials until the game resumes. European TV doesn’t have the advertising commitments like the US does so they play fewer commercials and then it’s just dead air. So they go to a sports caster who recaps the action so far in the game. If it’s 0-0 five minutes into the game what is there to really recap?
The NFL in London is still far off, and there will be a team in L.A. before going across the pond, but maybe looking to put a team in London isn’t the answer. The NFL wants global dollars that’s no secret, but why not look to put a team in Canada? Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa are all viable cities for an NFL team, Vancouver would be too but it would divide the Pacific Northwest because of Seattle. Only time will tell what will happen with London and the NFL but the idea of an actual World Championship is an idea everyone can get behind.