Today marks just the first of three NFL games across the pond in London, United Kingdom. Now, if you don’t think that Brits love football (american football, that is), then you are absolutely wrong. In 2013 before the Steelers clashed with the Vikings, according to Sportsbusiness Daily, the festival on Regents Street attracted over 500,000 fans. That was when the 0-3 Vikes were playing the 0-3 Steelers. 500,000 people. For that game. Get my point?
I was one of those fans, and I was one of the countless others at yesterday’s event. And, I will tell you in all honestly, that this city wants and needs an NFL franchise. Whether it be the countless NFL jerseys anywhere from Dan Marino to Reggie Bush Dolphins jerseys (yes, someone wore a Reggie Bush Dolphins jersey) or the hundreds of smiling british children and drunk fans all participating in the minigames like throwing the football into a hole in the wall, or kicking it (was a british favourite), or even the completely random “NFL Rockclimbing” structure that was a huge hit, you can tell this city loves this sport. NFL.com’s Henry Hodgson put it perfectly, saying:
“If NFL executive vice president of international Mark Waller needed affirmation of his goal of having an NFL franchise in London by 2022, it came on Saturday — one day before the Raiders and Dolphins clash at Wembley Stadium — in the form of the NFL’s fan rally at Regent Street.”
This sport captures the attention of British folk because it is rough like rugby, passionate like soccer, and traditional like cricket. Those are the three sports here that people actually care about, so the culmination of them make for one fun day for the fans. Not to mention, of course, the beer.
If you think NFL fans in America drink a lot of beer, you would be shocked to see the stadium’s concession stands last year. I am talking backed up to the edge of the halls for beer. A pong game between an NFL home crowd and the International Series’ home crowd would be nothing short of spectacular. There is only one thing brits love more than their sports, and that is pubs to watch their sports in and drink their pints.
I attended the Steelers v. Vikings game last year and let me tell you, there was more fire, energy, and excitement than any other sporting event I have ever been to. I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the atmosphere of those Panther home games were nothing compared to this. I am sure a lot of friends who also came to the game would say the same about whatever team they grew up with. It is just that tangible. The chants that soccer fans of clubs like Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United use were instantly morphed into cheers for the Vikings or Steelers. Each big play had it’s own big “OOOOOHHHH” to follow. Each touchdown ended in chaos. It was exactly the type of atmosphere you would want to be in after spending all that money on tickets.
Speaking of money, you may be thinking, “Ok, so the city wants a team, but it can’t logically work, right?”.
There is so much opportunity here for major cashing in from American and European companies that they will be dying to support a transfer. There is so much infrastructure already available to the NFL that has already been showcased so far in the international series. There is so much capital attraction to this capital city, such as drawing fans from across the UK and even wider. The marketing for this place is off the charts. It really can work.
With beautiful Wembley Stadium already showing it can host successful NFL events and even further challenges for it to face and overcome in the future, the NFL may already have their stadium built. With sponsorship already not an issue, money and profit is covered. With the city being one of the largest industrial and commercial markets in the world already, there will be no shortage of attraction or attendance. Now all the city needs is a team to realize that and pack their things for England.
So, who will that be?
Let’s start it off with the fans in England don’t care who comes over. They (we) will be so happy to just have a team, that we won’t mind if it is the Jaguars or the Seahawks. It won’t matter. But, logistically, it can’t just be anyone.
The teams that come to mind are most obviously the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Oakland Raiders, the St. Louis Rams, and the San Diego Chargers. The Bills were just bought by the owner of the Buffalo Sabres, Mr. Terry Pegula, so they are no longer in consideration.
I would say of those four teams, only two are real possibilities, considering the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders would both go to L.A before they would come all the way to London.
So, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the St. Louis Rams are the most likely candidates. I have a feeling the NFL would prefer the Jaguars, considering every single “NFL on Sky Sports” ad features them, but that doesn’t mean anything (or does it).
On the other hand, the Rams, who can back out of their lease after this season, the next, the next, and so, could be the team that has the most motivation to leave. Poor city-team relationship, a stadium that requires millions of dollars for renovation, and a struggling small market may push the Rams to England by the end of the decade. The Jags may have more obstacles in the way, such as their recent renovations to EverBank field.
So, hypothetically we have our team and I have completely and utterly convinced you, Rams owner Stan Kroenke / Jags owner Shahid Kahn, and the NFL that a team in London is not only necessary but profitable. When do we start?
Well, the NFL hopes for 2022, but I say screw that. This city needs a team in the next 5 years. We cannot go on just surviving on 3-4 games a year here. Imagine if you only got to go to your hometown team’s games 3 times a year. You would just wither away and die, right?
So let’s get this whole process started. The city of London is ready. Hell, the whole nation of the UK is ready. The only question that remains is, is the NFL ready?