“We will have a team here that we can call our own within five years.” That was the verdict of Sky Sports’ Neil Reynolds when asked about the future of the NFL outside of America.
A London based franchise has been the biggest talking point for those involved in the game in this country for a number of years and it is becoming more and more clear that it is a hot topic for those in charge of the league as well.
In 2017 there will be a record four games played in London at and it once again raised the question, ‘could a sport that couldn’t possibly be more American really be a success in the UK full time?’
The idea has drawn support from within the NFL, particularly from league officials and owners such as the New England Patriots Robert Kraft and Jim Irsay whose Indianapolis Colts team played at Wembley for the first time last season.
Irsay, speaking during his time in London, said that he believes that there will be a franchise here before 2025. Not quite in line with Reynolds’ prediction but it is yet another influential figure that has suggested that a British based franchise may well be a reality in the not too distant future.
It’s not too hard to see why team owners would want a team based outside of the US. There isn’t really anywhere to go in terms of growing the league (and revenue) in the country any more. With the recent announcement that the Chargers will make the move from San Diego to Los Angeles to join the Rams, there is now two teams in the country’s biggest market. The Raiders have filed to move to Las Vegas but that could still change. London could well be the next big goal for the NFL.
Jeff Fisher was full of praise for British fans and the idea of a team moving here when he was over here with his now former Rams team in October. When asked if he thought that a franchise moving here could be possible he said:
“The enthusiasm and the support is clearly here. There’s no doubt about that. I think it will be great for the National Football League if it happens at some point.”
Of course, Fisher may have just been pandering to the British-heavy collection of journalists at the press conference that day but if you take his words at face value, this is a big show of support from one of the most senior coaches in the game.
Roger Goodell, the league’s commissioner, has made global expansion a big part of his plans for the league since he took over in 2006.
Reynolds said: “We’ve got government support. The powerful support of NFL owners and the commissioner. It feels like he wants to make it his legacy.”
It’s not all positive regarding a London team though. The players haven’t exactly been supportive in their time over here.
The Colts arrived on the Friday before their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars and following a quick practice, didn’t sound too thrilled about being in London.
Anthony Castonzo was asked how he felt following the long plane journey from Indianapolis and his response seemed to sum up the feelings of his teammates pretty well. “I feel like death.”
While Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said: “You try to prepare as best as you can. It’s not ideal.”
Luck actually lived in England as a child when his father, Oliver Luck, was president of the now defunct NFL Europe league but didn’t come across as too approving of a team making the country he once called home its permanent base.
One of the main issues that is brought up in opposition of a UK team is that most fans of the sport will already have a team that they support and may not switch teams. Switching teams is seen as a big no-no for many in British sport.
What seems more likely is the London team will become a second team for many people. British fans turn out year after year to watch games that do not involve their own teams. You only need to head to the stadium on a gameday to see that the majority of fans there on the day support one of the franchises not involved on the day. It is hard to imagine fans will stop going because it is the London team and not any of the other 31 teams that they do not support.
There are all sorts of reasons why a franchise wouldn’t work here. From travel, to scheduling and tax and passport issues. But if those in charge want to make it work, and when they see all the dollars it could make them, then they will find a way.