How Would An NFL Team In The UK Actually Work?
Throughout the centuries, people of London have braved unpredictable weather, violent hooligans, and drinking bans to witness the capital's fabled history of sporting spectacles. Citizens once escaped the drudgery of feudalism and succumbing to bubonic plague to cheer from the stalls at their favourite joust, or witch burning, or public execution.
But it soon became clear that spectator sport ought not just be reserved to those on death row - but rather regular lads like you and I. Eventually the UK became a sporting nation. If not, the sporting nation. Saturdays were for the football terraces. Summers were for cricket. Rugby union was for the well-to-do and Welsh.
And, then, from across the pond came American Football. Fast forward several decades and it is a sport that has achieved a British fanbase all of its own. There's now even talk of bringing a team to the capital. Permanently. History shows that if they build it, we will come.
But what will the NFL have to do to ensure the prospective London franchise attracts a fanbase as dedicated as a formidable firm, as loud as a Premier League crowd, and as rowdy as a VIP package table at the Darts World Championships? Let's take a look at how an NFL London franchise could work.
If London was to get a team, it wouldn't be a new franchise. Instead, they'd ship an existing one over from the States. Word is that it would most likely be the Jacksonville Jaguars. Not only has the team struggled during its years in Florida, it's already gained something of a foothold as 'London's team' - the Jags have already played five 'home' games at Wembley. In theory, UK fans would be ready and waiting, and Jacksonville wouldn't miss them. There are probably many Jags fans who would dispute that statement, but at least they could mourn their lost team along with people in St Louis and San Diego.
As anyone who's watched an NFL International Series game knows, British fans tend to rock the jersey of the team they support, whether said team is playing or not. What results is a stadium full of every NFL jersey you can think of. If London were to get a team, you'd have to wonder if Brits would swap lifelong allegiances for local loyalty and show up in the same merch. Let's hope so, or we'd feel a bit bad for whatever home team ends up here. Imagine trotting out for Leicester and seeing the King Power's stands full of kits belonging to clubs who are in the midst of stealing your title.
Bad news for any fans outside of London, but an NFL franchise in the UK would most likely operate within the M25. Potential venues would include Wembley, Twickenham, and Tottenham's new ground, Northumberland Park - where future NFL London Games are already set to be held.
Moving an NFL team is not like shifting a Sunday League team around outer London. You can't just stick them in a minibus with a crate of Fosters for the ride home and call it a day. You're talking masses of equipment, masses of (massive) men, as well as cheerleaders, general staff, physios, toilet paper, etc, etc. Needless to say, the admin at the travelling team would have a lot to do prior to an away day in the UK. That's not to mention the amount of transatlantic flights the London team would have to endure themselves.
So what are the options? One idea that's floated around is a 'series' style schedule. Namely, the London team would play several home games in a row, then tour the States for a chunk of away games. Whether the players would want to do this is a whole other matter. Speaking of which...
Would a highly touted college recruit, or a journeyman veteran really want to sign for a team located in a country they've potentially never visited? Or stay away from their families for weeks at a time if the series schedule is implemented?
The UK's appetite for the NFL is undeniable. Executed correctly, it's hard to envision a potential London franchise being anything other than a success. The toughest obstacles would appear to be logistics, as well as the players, who - despite financial perks - will have to make a few personal sacrifices.
One thing's for sure: if even the most bizarre corners of the sporting world can attract a following in the UK (we're looking at you, Ultimate Frisbee), then an NFL team will easily fill a stadium, week in, week out.