In recent weeks, the NFL has grown more and more vocal about the prospect of a London franchise. Players, owners and league officials have for some time been dropping hints that a permanent team in London is very much part of the NFL’s long term growth plans. However the rhetoric is certainly ramping up as marquee players like Maurice Jones-Drew and Matt Schaub and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft have made some of the most telling statements yet about the prospect.
Last week, Oakland Raiders running back Maurice Jones-Drew and quarterback Matt Schaub admitted that they believed a UK franchise was on the cards.
Jones-Drew, who played for the “home team” in London for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013 and will do so as a Raider, when asked if he thought the British fans had earned the right to have a permanent team in told Brit View NFL “You know what? I think they deserve one… I think the fans deserve it and London deserves it because it is a great city.”
His teammate Matt Schaub was no less emphatic adding “Absolutely. I think that is definitely in the future.”
Many players have, in the past expressed a concern about the additional toll the trip takes on their body, and Jones-Drew once again expressed this concern. “My only worry is the toll it would take for a team to go back and forth and how would you get that done?” Said Jones-Drew “There are some things they would have to work on – they might have to bring the Concorde back and cut that time in half. But you never know.”
However, veteran pass rusher Charles Woodson was less concerned. “Being a little bit older, you can appreciate these kind of things.” Said Woodson “Having the opportunity to represent the NFL in London is going to be a great experience. I’m very excited to be playing in London.”
Fullback Marcel Reece summed up the current feeling of most around the league, and was quoted as saying “I’m excited that the Raiders finally get a chance to come out to Wembley Stadium… We’re an international team and we have an international fan base – there is only one nation and that’s the Raider Nation.”
The NFL is trying hard to establish itself as a Global, not just North American brand, and expansion into the UK is seen as their first big opportunity to grow their fan base abroad. Over recent years, interest in the NFL here in the UK has really taken off, selling out each and every game played on British soil so far. The NFL know, however, that they are on the clock. The more saturation the NFL gets, the more attached British fans become to their adopted US franchises. All 32 NFL teams already have some kind of UK fan club, with numerous teams having real rabid fan bases over here.
The league knows that if they do not establish a UK franchise sooner rather than later, that team may not have enough fans left, to support it—all of the British NFL fans will have already declared their loyalty to an existing US franchise.
However, in spite of this, the league have thus far been relatively hesitant to publicly give timelines or firm commitments on when, or even if, the league will grant the UK a franchise.
However, all of that changed when New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft appeared to articulate the timeline the NFL is currently working towards.
“I can see the kind of reception we got there,” Kraft said when asked about a UK franchise, according to NFL.com’s Marc Sessler. “… I would not be disappointed, and I would also believe that we should work hard to try and have a franchise in London before the decade was out.”
Kraft’s Patriots visited to the United Kingdom in 2009, and again in 2012, and have a very committed fan base in the UK, though are not a team likely to consider relocating.
2020 may seem like a long way away to some, but in reality, if the NFL is hoping to have a permanent team in place by then, Kraft—who is very much a league insider—must already know that plans are well advanced.
A recent UK Parliamentary group survey indicated that a UK based team would potentially need to look for a permanent base of operations other than Wembley Stadium which has traditionally hosted games, but is considered a “National” stadium, specifically designed not to be the home stadium of any team. The London Olympic stadium is one option, but certainly not the only one. Ideally, a London based NFL team would want their own stadium, which would allow them sole control over things like scheduling, merchandising and ticket sales, which are important in the long-term success of a team.
If this is the case, the NFL team would need to be in a position to break ground on the new stadium no later than 2017, and with negotiations for such large building projects typically taking several years, The NFL would likely need to be in a position to announce the move within the very near future.
It is, of course, possible that the team would be able to move into a temporary or shared stadium for a number of years before settling on a permanent home, but again, the setting of a timetable appears to confirm that this is not a long term, but a short term goal.
What do you think? Would you follow a London based team? Would you switch allegiance from your current NFL team to the UK franchise? Would you regularly attend home games as a fan of the UK team, or only as an away fan if your current team is playing against them? Let us know in the comments.