The (Old) England Patriots… Could London be getting an NFL franchise?
Recent rumours of a move to London were very quickly, and rather colourfully, quashed by Los Angeles Chargers owner Dean Spanos.
“ It's total f***ing bulls***. We're not going to London. We're not going anywhere. We're playing in Los Angeles. This is our home, and this is where we are planning to be for a long f***ing time. Period."
The story surfaced after The Athletic reported the NFL and Chargers were looking at moving the team to London due to the highly competitive LA market. The NFL also denied the rumours, stating no such conversation had happened.
While it seems the Chargers are set to stay in LA, the conversation about a potential NFL London franchise isn’t over.
The NFL have been playing games in London since 2007 and have previously stated their hope to establish a team by 2025, a move which has already received positive feedback from the UK government.
What would a UK team look like?
A UK franchise faces a laundry list of challenges before it even gets to kick off. A mix of logistical, schedule and fan-based hurdles provide the league with a constant source of hesitation when deciding to install a London team.
One of the bigger issues is logistical, how do you move a 53-man team, staff, equipment and extras back and forth across the Atlantic every week? One suggestion has been playing home and away games in blocks of three and four, allowing the team to stay put for short periods of time.
This serves a dual purpose of allowing the teams to stay acclimatised to a time zone and reduces the impact of away games.
It doesn’t factor in the time spent away from ‘home’. Anyone playing for a UK team will have their family and friends based in either the UK or US, meaning for several weeks to months of the year they will be incredibly far away.
In a salary capped league this isn’t easily remedied by increasing salaries or with financial incentives players.
Then we get to free agents, injuries can tank a team if they aren’t managed, does a London team lose its buying power? Visas, accommodation, taxes and a whole myriad of other financial and legal issues are stacked on-top of the mountain of paperwork that already exists when signing new players. Scouting, open training and the draft also become even harder for a team who are now at least a 9-hour flight away.
The NFLPA have already set their position, while not completely against a London franchise, they are certainly not in favour at this point in time. Several claims have been made the NFLPA would never back a London team as it very quickly takes away the bargaining power of players.
Where are all the fans?
The UK certainly can’t be knocked for its lack of NFL enthusiasm, just look at last few years of London games.
In fact, one huge stumbling block in the establishment of any UK franchise are fan loyalties. The NFL has seen constant growth in its UK fandom, but this has only cemented allegiances to already established football teams. With a lack of geographical loyalties as most US fans have, those across the pond in Blighty have attached themselves to teams through pure enjoyment of that team.
While any NFL fan would welcome more football, the biggest worry is that any London based team would end up a reluctant second favourite to most of the UK market.
For example, I started watching the NFL around 2004, the first game I watched I saw the Seattle Seahawks win. From then on, I have been a Seahawks fan through the highs and lows. While I would welcome a London team, I certainly wouldn’t be supporting them over the Seahawks or even putting them at the same level as a team I have built a relationship with for nearly 15 years.
I know for certain that in the event of any playoff match up between Seattle and any new ‘home’ team, my allegiances would be firmly in the Seahawks camp.