By now, it will come as no surprise to anyone to learn that the NFL wants a franchise in London. And what a big, international sports and media conglomerate wants, it usually gets. Now, the FA has admitted it would be willing to travel around the country for its home games, essentially freeing up Wembley Stadium to host a full season of gridiron football.
Though the NFL has been clear in its message—there will be a permanent franchise based in the UK—one of the major concerns for the league, fans and any potential ownership group has been where the franchise would be based. Sure, Wembley Stadium is great for the occasional game here or there, but would the home of English Football really be willing to become the English home of American Football? According to the FA, the answer is unquestionably yes.
The FA are the owners of Wembley Stadium, so you would assume that their desire to keep the English national team located there would be strong. But after England’s 1-0 win over Norway drew near record low attendance figures—just a little over 40,000, less than half of its 90,000 capacity for football games—the owners are clearly hopeful that they can find alternative revenue streams to begin to offset the nearly £800 million construction cost. Though the English National team are contractually bound to play their home games at Wembley until 2017—the earliest possible date being suggested for a UK based NFL franchise—but after that would be willing to play home games from September to January at other venues around the country.
Club England Chief Executive Andy Bevington had previously indicated that it could take around 8-9 years before Wembley is paid for, based on the current schedule, but admitted that the prospect of touring the country is one they are certainly considering once that is complete.
An NFL Franchise playing nine or more games per season in London would significantly expedite that process. Recent NFL International Series games have all sold out, with the game between the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders which took place a couple of weeks ago drawing a crowd of 83,436 fans, virtually full capacity when the stadium is configured for American Football.
That this crowd was drawn for a game featuring two of the worst teams in the NFL—24th and dead last according to a recent ESPN power ranking—is all the more impressive. Those sort of gate figures would more than offset the pitiful figures seen for England friendlies taking place during the same time period, and make sense both for English Football, and for Wembley Stadium.
England would not abandon Wembley entirely, and would continue to host international games there where appropriate, but clearing a path for an NFL team during the entire regular season is a big step in the right direction. There has been some questions about whether the field can hold up to the beating of back-to-back NFL games—part of the league’s plan is to limit travel by scheduling blocks of home games in the UK, followed by blocks of away games in the states—and then turn around and host an England home game days later.
High profile club games, like the FA Cup, league cups and league playoff games would continue to take place at Wembley, though given that most of these take place during the NFL off season, this is not seen as a concern. Similarly, hosting a permanent NFL team would not interfere with England’s ability to bid for big international tournaments like the World Cup or European Championships or Champions League Finals, which also take place during the Summer months when the NFL shuts down.
The final remaining concern then would be concerts and other music events, which are major revenue draws for the stadium and, unlike the NFL, do not run to a seasonal schedule. While these events are relatively rare, they do require reconfiguring the stadium—something NFL Games also require. This is a logistical concern, of course, but it is something most other major stadiums deal with and certainly should not be beyond the realms of possibility to facilitate.
When the NFL does relocate a team to London, one major hurdle appears to have been overcome.