A look at the NFL’s ambitions in England
By Eric Wilkins, Sports Editor
London is a football city. It literally lives and breathes the sport. Unfortunately for the NFL though, London’s football is of a rather different variety. That, among other reasons, is why the league will never secure a team in the hub of the UK
Since 2007, the NFL has hosted an annual game in London. While attendance for these games has been good, the games themselves have seen some variation in quality. From the inaugural game (a 13-10 shootout between the Giants and Dolphins), to last year’s 45-7 thrashing of the hapless Rams by the Patriots, to this year’s tantalizing matchup of the Vikings and Steelers (combined 0-6 record), it’s a bit of a mystery why anyone shows up.
The game’s success is based purely upon the fact that it’s a once-a-year event. Contrary to the NFL’s hope, the British aren’t mad about American football; there will never be enough sustained support. The game is a spectacle. Yes, there are real fans in the crowd, but there are probably just as many watchers there just out of curiosity to see a rare event. Case in point: should the Globetrotters ever come through town I’d probably buy a ticket. Do I follow them at all? No. Do I even care about basketball that much? No. But how many times will I get to see that again?
Any doubts about the British lack of actual enthusiasm can be laid to rest simply by flipping through the history books. When the NFL attempted to establish a European presence, NFL Europe, there were initially two teams based in the UK: the London/England Monarchs and the Scottish Claymores. However, when the league folded in 2007, neither team existed anymore. The British didn’t want it then and they don’t want it now. One can attempt to blame the lower level of play for the teams’, and ultimately the league’s, failing, but the fact of the matter is, if people like something enough, it really doesn’t matter. Example: Canadians took to junior and European hockey during the last NHL lockout—the quality certainly didn’t matter.
The NFL’s money bag owners have failed to take another minor detail into consideration: the players. Who’s going to want to play on a London-based team? The travel times alone would be a strong deterrent for most. Assuming a 10-hour flight, players would spend 160 hours a season on a plane. That’s the equivalent of almost seven days of flying, and it doesn’t take into account the transportation to and from the airport. On top of this, players would need to pick up house and move to a foreign country—leaving behind a lifetime of family and friends. Players have been fairly vocal in their complete opposition to the notion, including the Steelers’ safety Ryan Clark saying, “I’d retire before going to London.”
While the league could likely force the team through initially, it would be doomed for failure. As soon as players’ contracts were up, they’d jump ship. Free agents? Good luck. Even draftees might pull an Eli Manning and refuse to play. The only way to attract any kind of talent would be to overpay… a lot. Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson has commented on the issue with, “I’d be up for the challenge… if they paid me. More than I get paid here. You know what I’m saying?”
NFL in London? No go. Time for an audible.