A Note To All Readers: This article was originally posted on April 1st 2014, also known as April Fools Day. Make of that what you will!
The NFL significantly ramped up its UK expansion plans, when the league and owners provisionally agreed to relocate 4 teams to the UK by 2017, forming NFC Atlantic division. The news was confirmed by a team source with in depth knowledge of the situation.
Host cities are expected to be London, Birmingham, Liverpool or Manchester and Cardiff, though apparently Edinburgh has also made a good pitch, and may get a franchise instead of, or shared with one of the English franchises.
The London franchise is confirmed to be housed in the London Olympic stadium, but will have a fallback agreement to host playoff games and those where scheduling issues arise at Wembley. The Cardiff team will play it’s home games at the Millennium Stadium.
The remaining teams have yet to finalise permanent homes, which has allowed Edinburgh’s Murrayfield, former home of the Scottish Claymores to emerge as a candidate. However, the league has agreed to a $100 million development fund to help build or renovate stadiums, and suitable sites in all three cities have already been identified, and plans drawn up to begin work within the next 12-18 months.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers confirmed as 2 of the relocating teams, and other options include St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions, but the league did not rule out the possibility of at least one expansion team being formed, as teams are also desired in Toronto, LA and Mexico City at around the same time.
The Buffalo Bills were reportedly also interested in a move, but were not sure if they can get out of new stadium agreement with city of Buffalo, and unsure of who new owners will be, so could not commit at this point.
A team source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said “plans have been in place to move a team to London since 2010, but logistics proves a sticking point.”
“Everyone agreed that a UK team was a good thing, but no one wanted to be in a division with them” he added. “Everyone felt a guaranteed trip across the pond each season was a real disadvantage to the rest of the teams in the division.”
“At the time, Al (Davis, Former Oakland Raiders owner) joked that we should just have a whole division over there, but the idea caught on”
A full division in the UK would limit the amount of international travel, both for the UK team, and their visitors, a real sticking point for the several teams.
Teams moving will not completely sever all ties to their current US home cities, and will retain US bases of operation during the offseason, and during extended periods of road games. The teams will also play three of their four preseason games, and one regular season game in the US. This will help meet the NFL target of just 4 long haul international flights per season.
“In many ways, it was easier for us to move a division than it is to move a team” said the source.
Addressing concerns that this plan hurts the NFC, it was explained that the division will actually rotate between the NFC and AFC bi-annually. Every 2 seasons, the NFC Atlantic will switch to become the AFC Atlantic, with AFC divisions taking turns to rotate into the NFC. Again, this is to ensure that no one conference has to do all of the travelling.
“Divisions will need to be reworked anyway, but we will ensure that historic rivalries are honoured” said the source. He also refused to rule out the possibility of a second new division incorporating the Toronto and Mexico City teams, if additional cities can be located in time.
“It may seem sudden to fans, but it is actually very far along, in terms of planning. The league have tried to keep it as quiet as possible, for fear of alienating their current fans. But we will likely be breaking ground on two new stadiums in the next 18 months, it won’t remain a secret forever.”