“London calling to the faraway towns, now war is declared and battle come down”.
London, UK – The opening two lines from London’s Calling by The Clash seem like the perfect sales pitch from London to the NFL for a UK franchise, but how likely is it and should it happen at all?
The NFL has played regular season games in London since 2007 when the New York Giants defeated the designated home team, the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Staduim. This was the first regular season game to be played outside of the United States. The single-season games in London continued through 2011.
In early 2012 it was announced that the then-St Louis Rams (now LA Rams) would play one home game a year in London for the next three years. However it hasn’t all been plain sailing, the Rams only played one of those games, cancelling their 2013 and 2014 commitment. The Jacksonville Jaguars took the Rams place and agreed to host home games (one a year) from 2013 through 2016. The Jags have played one game a year in London since and will play consecutive games at Wembley in 2020.
From 2017 the ‘NFL London Games’ increased to four but it isn’t as simple as just jumping from four games to eight. There are many obstacles to overcome and questions to be answered if the UK want a permanent team.
Has London Now Done Enough To Earn A Permanent NFL Team?
Including the four games due to take place in 2020, London will have hosted 32 games at three different venues. So far, 27 of the 28 played to date have been played to the capacity of the stadium that hosted it. Perhaps the ticket sales of the consecutive Jaguars could give a small indication of something more than just four, one-off games. There will certainly be scrutiny if one or both of these games is significantly below capacity.
“We’ve also have had tremendous support commercially, not only from media but from sponsors and licensees.”
“I think the issue for us still is can we do this competitively for the team that would be based in London but also for the other 31 clubs.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Jan 2019.
Stadium and Ticket Pricing In London
Since the NFL has a deal with the Tottenham Hotspur stadium to host at least two games a year until 2028 this has to be the front runner in terms of what stadium would be used to host eight games a season. The capacity at approximately 60,000 for an NFL game is also 22,000 less than Wembley, that would be 176,000 fewer tickets available over the eight home games. This sounds like a negative but it would be significantly easier to sell out each week.
This venue would be 29th out of the 31 NFL stadiums (the New York Giants and NY Jets share Metlife Stadium) on the current list of NFL stadium in terms of capacity, however, with the Raiders moving to Las Vegas and the Chargers moving into a new stadium in Inglewood, California, this would put London last on that list. If the NFL is to give London a team then surely it lacks a little faith and confidence to have that team dead last in stadium capacity. Alternatively, Wembley Stadium would come in at number two on that list.
It’s worth noting that not all of these teams sell out their stadiums to capacity every week. Take the Jaguars, for example, a capacity stadium of 67,000 but averaged just shy of 60,000 for the 2019 season.
A bad product on the field will keep the fans away more so than expensive ticket prices. The average ticket price for an NFL game in the States is dependent on the team, ranging between $107 to $530 an overall average of $318. The average ticket price across the four London games in 2019 was £124 not including any of the much more expensive corporate tickets. It would be interesting to see how eight regular season games presumably in the same stadium for the same team would affect these prices. I’m sure the NFL would want to sell as many season tickets as possible to have a better chance of a full or fuller stadium.
NFL Logistics, Time Difference, And London
The most obvious stumbling block for London having a permanent team would the time difference and distance to travel. For 51 weeks of the year London is five hours ahead of the Eastern time zone, (only four hours for one week due to daylight saving) and eight hours ahead of the West Coast of America.
In 2014 the NFL tried to counter this during the London series, playing one game at 2.30 pm UK time which is 09:30 a.m eastern time and 06:30 a.m on the West Coast. This was deemed as a success and has been a constant theme with one game a year in the earlier time slot since. Although the league’s reluctance to move more than one of the four games to this earlier time raises questions about doing this on a more consistent basis. That said there is nothing to stop a new UK time slot of 4 pm being introduced.
The five hour time difference would make it practically impossible for a London team to play in any ‘primetime’ games, Sunday or Monday night for example. Any Thursday night game would have to start at around 7 pm in the UK to enable fans to get home afterwards. However that would be 2 pm on the East Coast when the majority of fans would be at work, hardly ‘primetime’ if nobody in America can watch.
“With the one proviso that we’ve always referenced, which is that the travel component week-in, week-out is not tested,”. “We feel the fan demand is here, we feel the stadium infrastructure and optionality is here, we feel the government support is here. We feel the logistics and training side of it are here. We feel very good. Like I’ve always said, the one we can never test for is how does it work week-in and week-out.”
Mark Waller, The Then VP of NFL International Speaking In October 2018.
In addition to fans attending, any Thursday game would have to take place after a bye week for the visiting team due to the distance to travel. The solution would have to be either play the game on the road or for the London team to not participate in the one Thursday night game that the league currently insists that every team plays in.
Playing in either the AFC or NFC South would at least limit the travel as much as it possibly could but the London team would certainly be racking up the air miles with the eight road games. Aside from kick-off times, all the league’s scheduled events, such as free agency and the draft are based on the Eastern time zone, another potential disadvantage for a London team?
Re-Location: With Everyone Asking If They Could, Did Anyone Stop To Think If They Should?
All the talk so far about London having a permanent NFL team has been from owners, Presidents and Vice Presidents of various NFL groups both in the UK and the US but did anyone stop to ask the players?
Would players and coaches be reluctant to sign long term deals in London? Would free agents or draft picks simply refuse to come?
Players talk fondly of coming to London for that one-off game but living at working in the capital for six months of the year for say three or more years may not prove quite so appealing. On the other hand players and coaches might be queuing up for such an opportunity. Until the NFL asks the players and coaches then we’ll never know.
Another potential issue for players and coaches is that of money. Would the employees of a London based team be paid in Sterling or Dollars and would this be a benefit or a detriment?
In 2019 NFL players are subject to a federal tax rate of 37 percent, a London based player would be subject to a 45 percent tax rate. It is also believed that taxes on endorsements would be significantly higher for those based in the UK. Does a London team get an increased salary cap allowance or some sort of luxury tax break to combat such issues?
If Roger Goodell’s quote is anything to go by, then if London were to gain an NFL team it would be via relocation rather than expansion.
“I think the issue for us still is can we do this competitively for the team that would be based in London but also for the other 31 clubs.” (Note here he says “the other 31 clubs”)
The Jaguars certainly seem like the obvious choice due to there current commitment to playing in London. As mentioned earlier the Jags will play two home games at Wembley in consecutive weeks during the 2020 season. This is the final year on the Jags current deal to play games in the UK although it is expected to be renewed.
The L.A Chargers potentially moving to London has also gathered pace in the last year. The Chargers are expected to move into the Rams new stadium but there are several issues between the ownership of both franchises. In short, Rams owner Stan Kroenke effectively cut the Chargers out the stadium deal.
Ideally, Chargers owner Dean Spanos wants to take the team back to San Diego but several issues over a new stadium would have to be settled first. However, it seems far more likely that the Chargers would be back in San Diego before moving permanently to London.
Another city with a current and very bitter feud with the NFL is that of St Louis. A pending court case between the city of St Louis versus the NFL and the Rams, and in particular its owner Stan Kroenke.
As powerful as the NFL are this is certainly not an open and shut case. One outcome could be that St Louis would be next in line to get an NFL team. The city has not given up on the Rams returning and although this seems unlikely this would then leave an open spot in Los Angeles.
Throw in the fact that Oakland has now lost the Raiders to Las Vegas, if there is a list of potential new NFL cities and there almost certainly is, then London seems unlikely to be near the top.
Does The NFL In London Have Longevity?
Back in 2007 when London hosted its first regular season NFL game, if successful and if the NFL in London showed significant growth then the plan was to have a permanent London team confirmed by the year 2022. This plan however, belonged to the VP of NFL International, Mark Waller and not that of Roger Goodell and the NFL itself.
The NFL had flirted with the idea of London hosting a SuperBowl but this plan as Goodell has stated will not be in the immediate future. The only current link to London and the games big event is that any team that wants to host a SuperBowl will have to play a home game in London to become eligible.
The NFL could easily continue to sell out four games a year in London for the next ten years but unless it is certain of the longevity of a permanent team in the UK it cannot pull the trigger on such a big move. Perhaps a team like the Chargers playing here for one season would be much more realistic.
For instance, the majority of NFL fans in the UK already have a team and have supported that team for a number of years. How many of these fans are all of a sudden going to jump ship to root for the London team instead, 10%, 20%? How many of these fans would buy a season ticket or go to more than one or two games?
Every year the London team will play the same three division opponents, as casual fan of the London team how long before these particular games start to lose support? The NFL is about parity and most teams have up and down years, some teams have sustained periods of down years. How would these such years be received by fans? Remember the same thing happens in the US and those teams truly belong to those cities. How many years of financial losses would be too many?
Some research does suggest that the UK might be able to counter some of these arguments. The average age of an NFL fan in the UK is 27, compared to 44 in the US. It is also believed that 40,000 people attended all the games between 2007 and 2017. This is proof of a sustained fan base.
For now, London will have to make do and continue to make a success of the four NFL games a year that it’s currently set to host until the time comes when all the questions have answers.
By Zennie62Media, an innovative media company with clients like Insight Terminal Solutions and the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal.