Having just read Jason La Canfora's article on NFL.com I thought I’d bring the debate to TST and see what Ram’s fans feel about the idea of the NFL expanding globally.
To put my position out there front and centre, I’m English and live on the south coast of our little island. I have attended every Wembley game so far and have also travelled to the States on many occasions (either through work or holiday) taking in games as and where I can. I can honestly say I have nothing but good things to say about what I have seen of your country. Now you may be thinking “well he lives in the UK so obviously he would be clamouring for a London franchise or a Wembley Superbowl”. Well that couldn’t be further from the truth. In my opinion a London Franchise, in the current climate at least, would be disastrous for American football in this country. The reasons I see for this are as follows:
1. Currently International series games are held at Wembley, a stadium that, for NFL games, holds 85,000 people. Now for a one-off game where demand is high that is suitable but if at least 8 games a year were held there then I can’t imagine 85,000 people filling it for every game. What would it look like if only 40,000 were in a big stadium like that? It’d look terrible. This, of course, is dependant on Wembley being available for each game. The ground is primarily a soccer stadium and as such any conflicting soccer fixtures would take precident forcing any London franchise to relocate (not an easy task in London and definitely not cheap, they would certainly struggle to build their own stadium)
2. Is there truly the fanbase? While I am sure there are many hardcore fans like myself over here that take in any all football that we can on my visits to Wembley I noticed that a lot of fans I encountered were Dutch and German fans who had travelled over to take in a game. Would these same fans actively support a London franchise?
3. Speaking of which All the fans I encountered at these games have already adopted teams in the NFL and most would probably not switch their hardcore allegiance just because they had a team in their own country. I know I wouldn’t stop being a Rams fan just to support a London team
4. Would players really be happy about moving to another country to play? Sure some would just to be given the chance to play but it’d be yet another obstacle for the franchise to overcome. It’s one thing re-locating from the west coast to the east coast for example but asking young players coming out of college to re-locate to another country entirely? Whatever similarities exist between our two countries there are as many differences as well and I’m sure there would be enough players that simply wouldn’t be able to handle it. It’d only take a couple of players to have bad experiences and players would be dreading being drafted by a London franchise.
5. All that brings me to the point that a losing London franchise would soon lose all those casual fans and be left with only a fairly small hardcore base of fans. The novelty would wear off pretty quickly and you’d find a team that would be primed for a move back to the States.
All these things would completely destroy any good will the UK has built in the last few years with the NFL. There is a base of fans here as passionate and informed as any in the US but without careful planning and a measured approach the NFL will risk never gaining more than that base. If they are determined to expand the game then the best thing to do would be to make a real effort to expand the grassroots of the game over here. Sure, throw us a bone of a regular season game or two, but if you really want growth invest and encourage kids to play the game. Assist some UK universities in setting up a proper football program. It’d take time but if and when a few English players started developing and making a name for themselves in the NFL then you’d see a much bigger groundswell of support that could potentially support a franchise. Till then don’t try and grow a market that I suspect just isn’t ready.
Oh and as for a UK superbowl, I read a comment that said if they tried moving our FA cup (soccer in case you didn’t already know) to another country there would be uproar and I couldn’t agree more. The Superbowl is a uniquely American thing and it should stay that way in my opinion.