An independent, all party Parliamentary Group set up in 2010 is seeking comments from American Football fans in the UK on the sport in the UK. The report called “American Football Parliamentary Enquiry: State of the Sport in the UK” seeks to try to understand the popularity of the sport in great Britain, and the survey focusses heavily on feelings towards a franchise based in London.
The group was set up at around the same time as the NFL started making the UK in general, and London in particular, a growth market. In 2010, the UK hosted just one game per season, for 2014, they will increase that number to three, nearly half of a regular season home schedule.
Both the NFL and the UK government seem to now be seriously exploring the possibility of hosting a team in the UK on a permanent basis. Earlier this month, NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell once again hinted at the possibility, mentioning that talks were “further down the road” when it came to a franchise.
This fan survey, which is independent of both the NFL, or NFL-UK, indicates that the government may too be gearing up to facilitate this.
Shahid Khan, the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars—who are considered the most likely team to relocate—Khan already owns the London-based Fulham FC. The team appears more than ready to make the move, having committed to at least one home game in London until at least 2016.
Although the survey makes mention only of Wembley Stadium, which has hosted the games since 2007 when the NFL first came to the UK, there has been some recent speculation that the London 2012 Olympic Stadium could also be configured for American Football. Part of West Ham’s plans for the stadium—and what ultimately saw their bid win out—was that it would be reconfigurable for use by other sports and events. Primarily, this focussed on Athletics—for which it was built—and music, but this could easily include American football too.
There are early indications that the NFL has already worked out most of the logistics involved with a UK franchise, including travel. The plans seem to revolve around having an US base, likely in a large secondary US market without an NFL Franchise, where the team could train during extended scheduled runs of road games, followed by longer periods of home games played back-to-back in the UK.
The goal would be to limit the team to only around 4 transatlantic flights per season, which at around 28,000 miles of air travel is actually around 6,000 fewer than the 2013 San Francisco 49ers completed.
Indeed, the consensus seems to be that it is only financial considerations which are preventing this from going ahead at this point, and that the league believe that they will be able to relocate a team to London by 2017. It is around this time when they hope the fan base will have reached critical mass to support a team permanently.
Indeed, some have even expressed a concern that this may even be too late. They fear that if the popularity of the sport continues to grow at the current rate, there will simply be too many fans who are already loyal to American teams for a London team to get enough home fans, and that the league may even wish to move up this timetable.
In addition to a UK franchise, the report also seeks to discuss the growth and development of amateur talent in the UK, with the hope of seeing more British players and coaches making the jump to the professional game, as well as TV and media coverage.
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