Over the last several years, reports have often emerged that the National Football League (NFL) is on the verge of bringing a team to London, not for just one game per season, but permanently. The most recent news stories say that the NFL is eyeing 2022 as the first season in which a London franchise would play a full schedule against other NFL teams. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has said he hopes that there is a full-time team in London in the next five years.
Earlier this year, the Telegraph reported that the NFL is hoping that Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur, who are in the process of building a new 61,000-seat stadium, will be willing to share their ground with the proposed NFL team. Now, this is all well and good, but we have heard this story from the NFL before. It always seems that we are “five years away” from an NFL franchise leaving the U.S. and moving across the pond to London, yet no real progress ever seems to be made. Why do these plans always remain just that, and never materialise into anything more concrete?
Simply because the move isn’t happening.
The NFL realizes just how risky a move outside of its core market would be, and with all the difficulties starting a team on a separate continent would entail, the NFL is simply not in a position to take that risk, no matter how much Londoners want an NFL team to call their own.
Let’s consider the outlook of a London NFL team from an economic standpoint. It seems to me that there are a lot more questions than answers. Would players, coaches, and staff be paid in British pounds or American dollars, and what would happen if either currency were to drastically rise or fall in its valuation? This may seem a petty concern, but the UK will be voting in a referendum on EU membership in the next few years. If the UK does decide to leave the EU, it could have drastic effects on the pound as well as the British economy as a whole.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, what would happen if a staunchly pro-European government was elected in the UK and then decided to join the Eurozone, dropping the British pound as the national currency in favor of the Euro? How would this alter players’ contracts, and, perhaps even more important to the team’s performance on the field, how would all of this economic uncertainty impact a star player’s willingness to sign for London’s team?
Now we can look at a London franchise from a practicality perspective. How many Americans (practically all NFL players are from the United States) want to leave their country and live for months on end away from the places they call home? On the other hand, should many of the London-based players decide to move to the UK permanently, what would their legal status be? Will they be forced to pay taxes in the UK, which has significantly higher rates of taxation than the US? Will they be granted permanent resident status or even a passport? These are all important questions that must be answered before any team could make the move to London permanently.
Finally, let’s think about what a London-based franchise would mean for owners, fans, and the NFL itself. First off, I would be surprised if there were more than a handful of current NFL team owners who would even consider moving their franchise to London. Think about all the risks involved. Stadiums, staff, contracts, training facilities, office buildings – these are just some of things that would need to be in place a few years before the team itself moved in. All of this infrastructure would have to be built and paid for before the owner of the team knew whether or not the team would be a financial success. Starting a team in London would be vastly different than simply starting another team in the US. That has been tried many times with only a few failures. But starting an international team in a country with no tradition of playing American football is a massively risky proposition for any owner to take on.
A team in London would also create huge problems for fans as well. Even if the London team does develop a strong and loyal fan base, a big “if” considering that American football is only sporadically played throughout the UK, these fans would have to travel incredible distances to see their team play away games. Every time the team played its opponent away, fans would have to travel thousands of miles and pay thousands of pounds in international flight fees just to see a one-hour football game. This arrangement would be unfair to London team supporters as well as the team itself, who would undoubtedly be at a strategic disadvantage every time they played a road game. The logistics required to make all of this happen on a weekly basis would be monumental and simply involve too much risk for the NFL to consider a London franchise a reasonable proposition.
A London NFL franchise really would be something. It would help the NFL expand its global reach and help the sport of American football grow internationally. However, in my view, the risks are simply too great for the NFL to go through with starting a team in London at this time. Maybe some day we will all be able to buy tickets to see London’s very own NFL team play, but that day looks to be far on the horizon.