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Is London a realistic place to have an NFL Franchise ?
The British viewing figures for the Super Bowl have doubled in the last 5 years with the 2012 Super Bowl, between the Patriots and the Giants, attracting around 4.4 million viewers shared between the Sky sports coverage and the BBC.
Putting this in perspective, these are remarkable viewing figures when you consider that the game traditionally starts at around 23:30 and does not finish until 3 am. These are approximately the same amount of viewer that tune in weekly to the much beloved BBC show Top Gear, which is shown at the much more sociable time of 20:00.
Therefore, there is no doubt that there is a huge following for the NFL in the United Kingdom. However, is there a big enough market for there to be a permanent franchise in the UK, most likely London? The NFL are certainly considering it, that there is no doubt, they have committed themselves to having three regular season games for the 2014 season, which remarkably have already sold out..
However, questions have been asked whether the NFL would want to expand outside the United States and if so why. Pro Football is without doubt America’s biggest and most loved sport. Attendances each week average at around 65,000, compared to the English Premierships average attendance of around 35,000 and an average of 13 million TV viewers for
Monday Night Football. The fear in America is that the NFL in now in a saturated market and cannot expand in America; therefore trying to expand in to new territories seems like the next logical step. With London being somewhat of a sporting hub and within easy access of the rest of Europe, as well as being a native English speaking city, it seems the logical place to begin this expansion.
London no doubt has the stadiums to accommodate a Franchise, with several options including Wembley, potentially using the Olympic Stadium, which if converted in to a Football Stadium with a capacity of 60,000 would be easier to fill 8 times a year, as well as potentially using Arsenal’s Emirates stadium which also has a capacity of around 60,000. Therefore the facilities are in London and there would not be a need to build a brand new stadium, also with a population of around 13 million in Greater London, plus London being easily commutable for the rest of the United Kingdom, there are certainly the people to attend and support the franchise.
But despite all these statistics which seem to support London having a franchise, the questions still remain whether the fans that annually turn up in there droves to the Wembley game, would continue to go to games weekly, the two games next year will go a long way to seeing if this will be the case.
However, there are far more questions than just if they can get fans to the stadium for each game, as the marketing machine that is the NFL will no doubt be able to achieve this by doing ticket promotions and huge advertising campaigns, but this is something that would not be sustainable.The NFL needs a sustainable franchise that will expand the game within the United Kingdom, Europe and potentially Asia.
A problem that having a franchise in London will face is with the loyalty that many fans have towards already established NFL teams, a support that may have existed for years, and whether they would change their allegiance from that team to a London based team. Also if the idea is to expand the NFL to Europe, is it unlikely that a person from Berlin, Helsinki, Paris, Madrid or any other major European city will get behind a team that would be seen as English. There is also a concern that many UK fans already support an NFL team, and will these fans change allegiance to a London Franchise is a huge question mark .These concerns will of course not be able to be answered unless a franchise was started in London.
However, this will not be the first time the NFL has moved to a new area and when a new franchise begins in America, such as the most recent edition, the Houston Texans, there was no doubt a large fan base in Houston for pre existing NFL teams, but they manage to get an average of over 71,000 fans every home game.
The main issue though will come from within America; cities such as San Antonio and Los Angeles do not have franchises but are desperate to have one. Also the logistics of having a franchise in London would have to be considered, the players would have to come and live in London for the duration of the season, which would require visa’s as well as the players undoubtedly having to pay tax in the United Kingdom. The time difference would also play a role with scheduling as jet lag would be a factor as well as timings of the games.
I have no doubt though an organisation as successful as the NFL would sort this out. However, one thing the NFL will not be able to control is whether or not the players would be prepared to leave their home to live in London for nearly half the year. For some, a chance in the NFL would be enough, however for the star players that London would want to attract to be successful, would be more difficult to convince, as they would have many more options and are unlikely to want to leave the country they were born and raised and which their family live.
If the NFL can sort out the logistics and make the star players to go to London over staying in America and try and make the London franchise competitive quickly then I believe a franchise could work and prosper in London, but a move to either the Olympic Stadium or Arsenal’s Emirates would be far more sensible than to try and sell out 80,000 plus tickets at Wembley, as even the most popular teams in America would struggle to do this, in particular in a losing season, which the London franchise would no doubt endure over the first couple of years.
There is, no doubt, a huge buzz around the United Kingdom and in particular around London about American Football. The amateur game in the UK is expanding at a huge rate of knots with the University game being the fastest growing University sport.
Is this buzz big enough to maintain a sustainable franchise that will grow and add to the NFL that eventually may produce a Super Bowl winning team? I believe the answer is certainly yes, the major problems is that in the UK and in particular Europe, soccer is the first, second and third biggest sports. Rugby Union fails to get the crowds they want and Rugby League has poor match attendances and television figures, figures that are in fact less than Sky Sports NFL Sunday coverage.
Therefore, American Football’s main competition is Soccer, a competition that even the most ambitious of NFL marketers will understand they will not come close to competing in, but it is also a market that they do not need to compete with.
London is perhaps the most multi cultural of cities in the world, with over 300 languages spoken in London alone, easy access from Europe will have fans come in there thousands to watch games, and potentially having the London franchise playing a few pre season games in other major European cities will drum up the interest in the franchise
And if all fails in London, then there a numerous cities namely San Antonio and Los Angeles would be more than willing to accommodate a franchise that started in London to relocate.
The British fans want a franchise, the NFL seemingly want a London franchise, therefore if the two games next year sell out then the NFL need to gamble and start the process of creating one in London