The NFL In London

Last week, as the good folks in London prepared to experience their first NFL game of the 2015 season, a couple of political figures across the pond expressed their desire to see an NFL franchise housed in London. George Osbourne is the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the UK; the analogous position here in the US would be Secretary of the Treasury. Last week, Osbourne said he hoped the NFL would put a team in London within the next 5 years. After meeting with NFL moguls and team owners last week, he said:

“The real prize, the touchdown for London, would be to get a team based here. I want London to be the global sporting capital.”

There will be 3 regular season games in London this year; the Jets and Dolphins played there last weekend; the next game there will be on October 25 when the Bills and Jags seek to entertain the London crowd; I am sure Rex Ryan is already working on something provocative to say then. I have not been a huge enthusiast of putting a team in London purely for logistical reasons but if I assume those logistical barriers can be overcome/ameliorated sufficiently, here are two things Chancellor Osbourne said last week that I found very positive; first:

“I am supporting the NFL to bring one of their 32 teams to London permanently and will work with them to make this happen.”

The positive part of that comment is that he is talking about bringing an existing team to London and not an expansion team; the NFL does not need to expand. In other remarks, Chancellor Osbourne said that he and his departments were looking at any sorts of barriers that might make putting a team in London more difficult. While one might think that would mean finding money to build a new stadium for an NFL team, other events would indicate that his message was less mercenary and more constructive.

The NFL already has a deal in place to play two game per season at the new stadium already under construction for the Tottenham Hotspurs of the English Premier League. That deal runs for 10 years and is scheduled to start in 2018 when the new stadium is finished. Wembley Stadium has housed NFL games for about a decade now and there are no plans to tear it down. The facilities to house the games would seem to be in place.

I must admit that I get off the train at the point where Chancellor Osbourne says that a study indicated that the 2 NFL games in London last year contributed £32-million (about $48-million) to the local economy. I never believe those studies that set out to figure the value of a sporting event to a city/region nor estimates of future revenues to be generated. They are always hugely over-stated and assume the rosiest of scenarios. However, on balance, Chancellor Osbourne’s statements were positive.

Chiming in was the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, who expressed his “high hopes” for a permanent NFL team in London in the near future. And so, with all of this pomp and circumstance flavored with “high hopes”, I started thinking about how the NFL might accommodate all of this stuff in the context of its existing 32 teams. Remember, it is pretty clear that Roger Goodell and the suits on Park Avenue would love to tap more deeply into the revenue streams that would exist in a city as large as London.

I think the resolution lies in all of the posturing and gesturing that has gone on with regard to putting a team back in LA. There are three teams poised to move to LA because they have “stadium issues” in their current locales. The overriding issue is that each plays in a stadium that not nearly as posh as it might be meaning there are dollars being left on the table by those teams. There is no way on the planet that the NFL is going to put all three of those teams in LA. Moreover, there are two teams in Florida (Jax and Tampa) that are not drawing well in their home venues. Therefore, the NFL has a pool of 3 definite teams one of which could move to London and 2 others that would likely make more money for the owners in London than they do in Florida.

My suggestion here:

    Stan Kroenke (Rams’ owner) wants to build a downtown stadium in LA. The league should get behind that move with one condition.

    The Spanos family and Mark Davis (owners of the Chargers and Raiders) want to build a stadium they would jointly occupy in Carson, CA. The league should tell all these folks that the league is not behind this plan at all.

    The condition for Mr. Kroenke is that his stadium has to be the home for 2 teams in LA until such time as one of the two teams proves to be financially not viable there. He can pick his “partner”; he can be the owner of the stadium and arrange a lease with that “partner” but he will only get league support if he has a “partner”. That puts 2 teams in the LA market in a stadium that an NFL owner wants to build anyway.

    The California team above who is not selected as Kroenke’s “partner” would have to make a choice rather quickly. That “outcast” team would have 4 options:

      1. Stay where they are

      2. Move to St. Louis in the vacated stadium there.

      3. Move to London

      4. Finalize a deal to move elsewhere in record time.

The beauty of my suggestion is that it scratches the immediate itch of getting at least one team – and preferably two teams – back into the LA market posthaste. Moreover, it gives the “outcast” team some maneuvering room to find a way to upgrade the facility that it plays in. What it does not do is to provide any answers to the attendance problems and the fan apathy that exists for the two Florida teams – unless of course the “outcast” team above moves to St. Louis or stays put. In that case, either of the Florida teams could become the new London Whatevers. Consider that Jacksonville has a population of less than 900,000 folks; Tampa/St. Petersburg has a population of about 800,000; London has a population of about 8.6 million.

Finally, here is a comment by Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald regarding a different sporting event housed in London:

“According to a report, seven London Marathon winners in 12 years recorded suspicious blood scores. Henceforth the London Marathon will be known as ‘The Tour de France Without The Bikes.’ ” .

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

8 thoughts on “The NFL In London”

    1. Rich:

      I have not seen this for myself, but I am told that in many stadiums in England, one can go to see a soccer match and find kiosks in the stadium where one can wager on the game scheduled there. I do not know if one can bet on games in other stadiums but I wonder how the NFL might feel about a situation where the London Whatevers are 3-point underdogs to the Chicago Bears and you have lines forming at the betting machines where fans want to “get down” on the game.

      Or is that one of the “barriers” that Chancellor Osbourne was referring to…?

      1. Here in Ireland, you can bet on your phone through an app (Paddypower and Ladbrokes both have them) DURING the game with live-updating odds.

  1. Two thoughts about having a team in London.

    I assume the London team is not going to fly to the USA eight times during the season for road games, so the NFL will have to schedule “road trips” consisting of multiple games. That means their subsequent games on any “road trip” will give them the same disadvantages any other road team will have playing a game in the USA. But, any team traveling to London and dealing with the long flight, as well as the time zone changes, will be at a disadvantage in two games (the one in London as well as their next game).

    I think the TV ratings for the NFL will never match up well when two of the better Premier League clubs are playing on TV, or when the London clubs are up against one another. These two or three games each season are novelty events that attract a lot of people who are never going to buy a season ticket or miss their favorite football club on the telly.

    1. Doug:

      The scheduling for a London Team is one of the logistical problems I referred to. If there is a team there, my idea of scheduling 2 Bye Weeks per team might become and imperative; a team traveling to play in London always gets the next week off. For the London team playing in the US, they might schedule them to be on the road for three games at a time reducing the number of transatlantic flights they have to take. Maybe even 4-game road trips?

      I completely agree with “the novelty factor” you describe.

      1. Hey, the NFL has scheduled long road trips… – the DEFENDING SB CHAMPION Jets started with 5 road games in 1969. The 1973 team started with 6. (The Mets were in both World Series)

        I would think, though, that a London team on a multigame trip would be a bigger disadvantage than most US teams. The US team gets to go home between games. Most games are regional – say the Jets play in Buffalo, then in Miami or Foxboro – they go home between, to their own beds, their own practice facilities, etc. The London team might set up a US base, have a facility as their home away from home – but it is not the same….

        I’d also try to schedule London road trips to start on the East coast… a flight to LA is what, 5500 miles and 8 time zones?

        The tourism numbers are possibly greatly added by novelty – a US expatriate working in, say, Oxford may take a trip to London yearly to watch an NFL game – but he won’t do it 8 times…. but this out of towner spends a lot more in the local economy per game than a local. He needs a hotel. All his meals in restaurants. Possibly a companion along for shopping or the night life? English language theater is London, New York, and then Oshkosh Community Theater… supposedly the biggest sporting boost to the NYC economy is not the Giants, or Yankees, or Knicks – it is the US tennis open. because they are out of towners, not locals spending discretionary entertainment dollars. The money i spend taking the gf to a Jets game otherwise might have gotten us tickets to a play, the Rangers tickets a concert in MSG. Either way, they were NYC(area) bound. Not so the money spent by some Boston tennis fan. That novelty goes away in time.

        1. Ed:

          With the move out of Shea Stadium, the Jets will not be displaced by this year’s Mets should they make it to the World Series…

          Your last point is what the so-called economic analyses always ignore. It is only the out-of-town (or in the case of the Olympics, the out-of-country) money spent in a city that really adds value to the local economy. The locals are likely going to spend what they spend in the area anyway; if they go to the game they buy tickets and food; if they ddo not go to the game they buy groceries and get their car repaired. Much of the spending by locals is done locally. Therefore, the only “boost” to economies comes from the “outside money” drawn to an area specifically because of the event(s).

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