How many of you know your Bradys from your blitzes, your shotguns from your snaps and your tailbacks from your turnovers? If you don’t, you may soon, after recent developments have indicated that American football could be about to explode in Britain.
84,004 gridiron fans descended upon Wembley Stadium from all over Europe on the 28th of October to witness an emphatic thrashing of the St Louis Rams by the New England Patriots, recording the second highest attendance for an NFL international series game in its brief six year history. This follows a Superbowl with a reported 4.3 million TV and radio audience in Britain and an announcement by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that, for the first time, two NFL regular season games would be played in London, bringing with it a £44 million increase in revenue for the capital.
In fact, with the NFL receiving so much attention in the UK, rumours have recently emerged suggesting that an NFL franchise could be relocating to London within the decade. This looked all the more likely when the Jacksonville Jaguars, the league’s perennial underachievers and the main target of the relocation murmurings, agreed to play successive home games in London in the coming four seasons in an astute attempt to boost their fanbase. It has also been reported that there are ‘encouraging’ talks ongoing between the NFL and the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, about the Olympic Stadium becoming the home of an NFL team, whether that be a current squad or a new expansion franchise.
Imagine, then, the reaction when Robert Kraft, owner of the victorious New England Patriots, stated that he believed that London was ready for a franchise of its own at the fan rally the day before the big game.
“I think London has shown, with the way they’ve handled the Olympics and every other major sporting event, that it’s time for you to have your own NFL franchise, based in London.” Kraft informed the crowd. ‘’I think as things develop, there’s a permanent home team, Jacksonville’s going to play here 4 years in a row. I’m sure they’ll develop a big following.”
Who could blame the NFL for wanting to expand their international market? Popularity for the sport in Britain has arguably never been higher, and all indications suggest that the NFL’s cult-like support this side of the Atlantic can only continue to develop. As the indescribable spectacle of international series at Wembley and the immense success of the Olympics have shown, the British infrastructure is already more adequate to accommodate the rigorous task of hosting an NFL regular season game.
Not everyone is enthralled by the possibility of American football in Britain, however. Many American fans have questioned the logistics of having a team make a transatlantic journey every week. The London team would arguably have an immense advantage at home, but a substantial disadvantage on the road. This would especially be a dilemma if the London franchise were to reach the post-season; how would it be fair on whichever team had to travel across the Atlantic for one season-deciding game?
Concerns have also been raised about whether the new team would garner enough home support. After all, hardcore fans would not switch their allegiances, and, with the team unlikely to be a world-beater until fully established, new fans may prefer more successful, more recognised franchises. The UK also doesn’t have a brilliant track record, after failing to fully support the now defunct NFL Europe.
As an avid gridiron enthusiast, I would love to see more football in the UK. Unfortunately, I can’t help but fear for the failure of this proposal.