Published on November 20, 2012 | by Tom Cattley

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No to NFL

Following another successful NFL fixture at Wembley last month, rumours have been gathering speed from officials on both sides of the Atlantic about the possibility of an NFL franchise being permanently based in London one day.

New England Patriot’s 45-7 victory against the St Louis Rams was the sixth international NFL series game to be played in London and so far every game has attracted plenty of publicity and has sold out at Wembley.  It is because the annual game has remained popular, with continually increasing TV audience figures that NFL executives are starting to believe there is scope for such a proposal.

In an interview with the BBC, Alistair Kirkwood, managing director of NFL UK, explained why the NFL felt that there was an appetite for a team in the UK:

“The UK is a country where people have an interest in a broader range of sports than in probably any other country. You can have your major sports and then follow a lot of other ones too. You don’t find this in France or Germany. So we are looking to be an ‘additive’ sport in the UK – you can be a Chelsea fan and also a New England Patriots fan too.” Alistair Kirkwood

But the main question is, will a franchise here succeed? The answer is no. First it would be a logistical nightmare. A London team would most probably have to commit to long road trips in America, potentially lasting up to four games in a row. The gruelling schedule would tire the team and could have a detrimental affect on performances.

The UK has a great traditional interest in sport, but it would be hard to persuade fans from other sports to pay to follow two teams. A team would struggle to compete with football for attendances and viewing figures.

How would the owners of American teams react when they have to fund a round trip to London every year? An away game in London for an NFL team would lead to a few day’s preparation and travel time, which could be a disastrous waste of time and seriously damage a team’s performance in the middle of a season.

Although many are pushing the idea in the NFL hierarchy, some would oppose it. How would these people feel if the NFL decided to create an extra team, then went overseas? The franchising system in place in the NFL means there is a distinct possibility that an existing team could be moved.

Some owners may agree to a move if they see higher potential revenues being based in London. But how are fans in America going to feel when they wake up one morning to hear their beloved local team has just been moved 3,000 miles away to England?

While there is an NFL fan base in Britain, there are simply not enough dedicated fans to fill Wembley for eight games a season over a number of years. There has been a professional American football team based in London, though

The London Monarchs were in existence from 1991 to 1998 and played in the  NFL Europe and World League of American Football. They folded because of falling fan numbers. Initially they enjoyed a fair amount of popularity and played their home games at the old Wembley stadium, in front of an average attendance of 40,000. The partial collapse of the league didn’t help, but it was the dramatic fall in popularity which is something NFL bosses need to evaluate.

There are positive reasons for basing a team in London, but the negatives far outweigh these and, for the time being, British fans will just have to carry on indulging in the odd one or two games at Wembley for now.

 

 

 

 

 

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