For all you NFL fans out there you can see the success of teams playing a regular season game in London, England. I mean, ratings are up, the game sells out, and this season there were two regular season games played there, Minnesota vs. Pittsburgh and San Francisco vs. Jacksonville. The NFL has even made it official that they will play three regular season games in London next season, with Jacksonville being one of them since they will play a game in London over the next four years or so. This trend shows you just how much the NFL loves money. I mean if Europeans are willing to pay money for tickets to a sport they barely understand, why not do it more than once? Of course with the increased frequency in games played overseas the question gets asked, will the NFL move a franchise, or expand to London? For the sake of the game Americans love so much hopefully the answer is no but, would moving a team to England work for the globalization of the NFL? Well it would definitely get the world to take notice of the sport but I’m here to tell you why in the long run it just won’t work.
We all know that soccer, is the world’s game, every country around the world seemingly has its own leagues and tournaments and those people who are aware of the NFL, or just the game of American football know that it can be confusing unless you actually commit to playing it. But the casual fan probably will not take the time to study game tape, and learn the subtle nuances of the game we as Americans find so fascinating. The culture of sports is different everywhere. I mean you have Yankees/Red Sox in baseball, an old rivalry that started in 1901. There have been fights, high drama, and an 86 year old curse! Bruins/Canadiens in hockey, two of the original six teams in the NHL have had intense games and high playoff drama meeting in game 7 of a playoff series 8 times, more than any other opponents in NHL history. The NFL’s equivalent is Packers/Bears. George Halas vs. Vince Lombardi, Aaron Rodgers vs. Jay Cutler, to a certain extent, but these two teams hate each other and they’ve had a long time to develop the rivalry. If the NFL does move in on London’s sports market then they will have to compete with not only their nation’s pastime, but the most heated rivalry of them all, Manchester City vs. Manchester United.
The Manchester City and Manchester United rivalry has lasted for 128 years, with pre-match banter from City fans pointing out that United does not come from Manchester, they are outside the city limits. But when you look back to Saturday, November 12, 1881, the first meeting between these two teams, this was a friendly match when each team played for the sake of playing. After World War II fans started picking sides and the intensity picked up to the point where in one instance a players leg was broken during the match and later had to be amputated. This rivalry has a name and it’s the Manchester Derby. There have been 150 matches between these teams. United has won 60 and City has won 41, with 49 games ending in a draw. The NFL has nothing in their history that can come close to this rivalry, and the Manchester Derby captivates all of England, now understand that Manchester is located about 200 miles north of London, just about a 3 and a half hour drive, but this intensity can be felt as if you were there. Not to be forgotten in this is that London has 6 Premier League teams in its city limits all of whom have rivalries themselves. Arsenal/Tottenham, Chelsea/Fulham, Millwall/West Ham United the list goes on and on, this is what the NFL would be casually walking into, essentially bringing a knife to a gun fight.
Not only will the NFL have to develop a rivalry that the fans want to see, they are going to have to compete for advertising as well. Now granted there are many sponsors that advertise around the world that represent the NFL and the Champions League teams. I mean the NFL and NFLPA have 27 sponsorship partners that you see on TV broadcasts all the time, Campbell’s soup, Pepsi, Gatorade etc. going into a global market you have to have sponsorships that will put your brand out there and make the merchandise appealing for people to buy. Now you are getting into mostly clothing and apparel. Nike is the provider of NFL gear in America and Nike is also a big provider of gear in the soccer world along with Adidas and Puma. So this would imply the Nike could only stand to make more money if they were to market for example NFL and FIFA jerseys together. Now in order to sell products in the marketing world it helps to have a spokesperson to promote your products, and the NFL has such spokespeople such as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. These Superbowl winning QB’s have tremendous marketability, you see Drew Brees doing Wrangler, Pepsi, and Verizon commercials and Peyton drives a Buick, eats Papa Johns, and wants you to have Direct TV. But just how many people in Europe or just England care about driving a Buick? They have other cars available to them, and Direct TV hasn’t cracked the English television market yet. Now the list of sponsors dwindles to those that have a developed relationship with Europeans.
Nike and Pepsi are two of the most popular sponsors that share interests home and abroad. I mean you can have powerhouse ad campaigns with some of the world’s most popular soccer and football players. For Pepsi you could have Drew Brees and Manchester City star Sergio Aguero share a can, or have Troy Polamalu and Lionel Messi compare how Head and Shoulders makes their hair feel. But maybe since you want the English audience you would have Wayne Rooney with Aaron Rodgers and Calvin Johnson pushing Nike. All of these players have been spokespeople for these companies so it stands to reason you’d try to blend them together to unite the general public. As far as star power goes the top five highest paid soccer players are: David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Wayne Rooney. The top five highest paid football players are: Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Joe Flacco, and Peyton Manning. Drew Brees makes $600,000 more than David Beckham and Aaron Rodgers makes about one million less than Beckham but more than the rest of the soccer players. So it’s apparent that these players are marketable. You can see more of the soccer players in the US because of the EA Sports video game FIFA ’14. Clint Dempsy and Lionel Messi you see in those commercials. Not only would you have advertising to do, have you ever seen pictures of these soccer stadiums when empty? They have ads of products panted on the seats! When you look at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, there is Coca-Cola logos painted over the entire 100 level that stretches the length and width of the stadium, I’m honestly surprised the NFL hasn’t been doing this for years, or at least Jerry Jones.
The NFL will not have to just worry about sponsorships they’ll have to worry about the competition with the Barclay’s Premier League, the most popular league in the world, and the other soccer leagues around Europe. Spain has La Liga, and clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona. Serie A in Italy has the club Inter Milan, and Ligue 1 in France has the club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), the club David Beckham currently plays for. These clubs travel to play the clubs in England and in the greater London area there are 6 clubs! Not to mention that there is the Europa League, a competition for all qualifying English teams. So the NFL would have the most diverse product in that area to say the least, but having just one NFL franchise there would be a lot of advertising for that marketing department. Not only are you competing with the clubs that dominate that area you have to compete with their schedules too. League games are normally Saturdays and Sundays and the English league plays a “Monday Night” game which is played in the late afternoon and Europa League games are played on Thursdays. So that means the London NFL team would play 8 games at home competing with league games on Sundays, or plays at home on a Thursday and compete with Europa League games. Of course you have the 5 hour time change to deal with, and because all the games in the NFL are on Eastern Standard Time that means a Monday and Thursday night game would be played at about 1:30am local time, and Sunday afternoon games that are a 1pm EST kickoff would be at 6 pm. 4:05pm EST kickoffs are at 9:05pm. All of these would either conflict with league schedules or be too late to be played and surely affect attendance.
Using the Premier League attendance data for 2012-2013 for clubs in the 2013-2014 Premier League Manchester United average attendance was 75,530 and their stadium seats 76,212. That’s a capacity of 99.1%, second best capacity in the Premier League. Second is Arsenal, located in London, with an average attendance of 60,079 and their stadium can hold 60,355 which is a capacity of 99.5%, best in the Premier League. Now with 5 other teams to compete with in the area, how is there going to be enough people left to go to an NFL game that starts at the same time locally, if not much later in the evening, as the league games do? I mean looking at last year’s NFL attendance, the best attendance is obviously “America’s Team” the Dallas Cowboys at an average of 80,645. Although this number may not be hit by other NFL teams you have to account that AT&T Stadium can hold over 105,000 people. But looking at that capacity it’s only 76%. The New York Giants and Denver Broncos have a 93% stadium capacity their stadiums holding on average 76,870 and 72,361 respectively. Relatively every game these NFL teams play is a sellout, but every game Premier League teams play is going to sell out, no chance of blackout games for them.
With all of this talk of an NFL team in London there is a lot you have to think about some of the things I already mentioned but the most important thing is actually putting a team there, so who would go? Assuming expansion will not happen and relocation of a franchise gets approved, I think the most likely team to leave its current city would be the Jacksonville Jaguars. This team went from being a consistent playoff contender to battling for the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft. It would make perfect sense, they are not going to sign the guy the fans think would be the savior in Tim Tebow, they have already played a game in London this season, with three more games to go overseas, and the most important thing is that their owner, Shad Khan, also owns Premier League team Fulham F.C. which is located in London! Now where would the Jags play if the move went well? Well I would think there would be fan upheaval if they were to share Craven Cottage, the stadium where Fulham plays their home games, plus it can hold only 25,000 people, not nearly big enough for an NFL team to play so that would leave Wembley Stadium in London. Wembley is home to the Premier League Championship game and can house 90,000 people. That can be quite the home field advantage. When these fans get into it Wembley would be louder than Century Link Field where the 12th man lives, and the Seahawks play.
To set world records in sound you’d first have to give the fans something to cheer for, and the Jags do not really have anyone that makes you want to get out of your seat and cheer for. Blaine Gabbert is the “franchise” QB and he’s hurt, Chad Henne is not a franchise guy, Maurice Jones-Drew can be productive but being on such a bad team leaves him taking a beating every week and will lead to a rapid decline, and he may not be there after this season anyway. Justin Blackmon has tremendous upside, his off the field issues though have left him suspended indefinitely and the offense to suffer. So who would you sell as the face of this franchise? Cecil Shorts? Jason Babin? Not likely, so now you have an identity crisis while trying to sell tickets to fans in a country that barely understand the sport. Europeans never got into NFL Europe because it was mainly centered around Germany, the rules were different than the pro game and after the first two seasons there was a two year absence so Europeans just lost interest but the NFL kept throwing money at the problem that ultimately went down the tubes and led to the folding of the league. The fans need something to teach them why the game is different, they are used to the non stop movement of soccer, there are no commercial breaks during matches, the NFL, with every stoppage we cut to beer or car commercials then come back. The fans love the big plays and the drama of close games but the constant stopping takes them out of the game and with fans watching from home the NFL broadcasts in America have commercials until the game resumes. European TV doesn’t have the advertising commitments like the US does so they play fewer commercials and then it’s just dead air so they go to a sports caster who recaps the action so far in the game. If it’s a 0-0 game five minutes into the first quarter, what is there to really recap?
I know that the likelihood of this even happening is slim, but you have to assume it could happen given the popularity of the game here and how much the NFL wants global dollars, but relocation of a team would happen to Los Angeles first before London. LA is desperate for a team and the NFL wants one there, there is already two proposed stadiums to be build there to house a team, and a Superbowl. Being a monster media market doesn’t hurt either, but if the NFL wants to move outside the US maybe London isn’t the answer, I can see a team going to Canada, maybe Montreal, Ottawa, or Toronto, I would say Vancouver but the Seahawks are right there in Seattle and that would divide the Pacific Northwest. The Buffalo Bills play in Toronto and the city wants a team, if they were to reach an agreement to break ground on a stadium to be built the Peace Bridge Rivalry with the Bills could be a fun ratings grab. Only time will tell what would happen with London and the NFL but the idea of an actual World Championship is an idea everyone could get behind.