5 Reasons An NFL Team Won’t Work In London (And 4 Reasons It Will)
This week, we’re seeing yet another NFL game played in London, and we’re starting to get the feeling that the league is really trying to get at something here. So far, the foreign inroads the American league has made have been minimal at best, but is there reason to believe that the sport could actually take on a team in London?
As usual, “yes and no.”
There are likely as many reasons not to bring an NFL team to London as there would be to bring one, so we’ll have to weight the pros and cons. Nonetheless, the NFL has its eyes set on a target, and it likely will be circling the city of London and the larger European market until it either gets what it wants or proves unfeasible.
Great. We got an NFL team in London. Now every week, that team will be struck with jet lag from flying across the Atlantic while the Baltimore Ravens casually walk over to Pittsburgh. Having a team in London would be like being the first and only guy with a fax machine – what the hell are you going to do with it?
Reason It Won’t #5: Who Would They Play?
I’m sure that there are a lot of players who would be thrilled to be involved in any NFL team, even if that team was in Europe, but the elite players, the ones with ties and endorsement deals, and trainers and agents…they’ll wanna be stateside. The NBA has had a hard time finding people to play in Vancouver and Toronto, while both those cities are about a combined 200 miles from the US border. England is a lot further.
Reason It Won’t #4: Who Would Want to Play There?
If patience runs out for any one of the parties, it’s trouble, but it’s likely that a London team could burn through goodwill from all of them before it found a foothold. It’s very likely that the club would lose money for a long time before finding commercial success, so you’d need to either find a risk-agnostic billionaire, or get the rest of the league to subsidize the franchise. You might find the former, but definitely not the latter.
Reason It Won’t #3: Cultivating a Fan Base Requires Patience the Owner, the League, Players, and Fans Don’t Have
Let’s be honest. These gymnastics aren’t being conducted by the league to just capture the London market. Nor the British market. It’s to expand into Europe. So for a London team to be viable, not only does London have to absorb its team, but the rest of Europe has to buy in, then demonstrate enough interest for further expansion constituting a whole division. It’s not likely.
Reason It Won’t #2: This Isn’t Really About London
The sports that transcend natural boundaries and cultural legacies are simple. Stupidly simple, as in the case with soccer. And less simple, but easily explainable, in the case of basketball, tennis, and hockey. Sports like football take a huge investment that other countries haven’t been able to make. Even the most casual American fans have an understanding of strategy that takes years to develop.
Reason It Won’t #1: Football Is a Complicated, Slow, Byzantine Game that Doesn’t Spread Quickly
That might sound ridiculous, but there is so much money in the NFL, if the owners see this move as a wise investment, they could bankroll this team for more than a decade without really missing a dime. However, the big caveat is “if these owners see this as a wise investment.” The NFL has more money than the federal reserve bank, so it can make a long play in London, New Delhi, or Mexico City if it wanted to.
Reason It Will #4: There’s Enough Money to Force This Thing To Work
It’s not necessarily being adopted by everyone, but it’s getting known, which is an important first step. If this thing rolls out somewhat organically, and foreign markets don’t feel that this thing is being shoved down their throats, then there’s a decent chance of not only survival, but success.
Reason It Will #3: The NFL Is Becoming a Global Brand
No one’s looking to London expecting the Dallas Cowboys. Or even the Miami Dolphins. When you look at how weak some of the franchises are in the NFL, it’s easy to see one market for all of Europe outperforming Jacksonville or St. Louis. I mean, even if the team doesn’t win, they can still cover a lot of costs with merchandising. It’s unlikely that they’d have much of a TV contract to begin with in Europe, but that could change.
Reason It Will #2: The Bar for Success Isn’t Very High
This is the elephant in the room. People are speaking about the expansion as though a team is getting abandoned at Heathrow airport with some jerseys and $20. That’s not the case. This will be the most novel team in the NFL, and as such, will get a ton of support from existing NFL fans. And those fans will travel to games, watch them on TV, and buy the jerseys. So that’s a nice hedge against any slow interest out of the gate from Europe.