Football across the pond: Relocating an NFL team to the United Kingdom

The National Football League (NFL) has held very popular games in London ever since my New York Giants defeated the Miami Dolphins during their Super Bowl-winning 2007-2008 campaign. However, unscientific polling conducted by yours truly has revealed that most Americans I know do not think having an NFL team in the U.K. is practical or realistic. Does this have an impact on the NFL and its team owners? The answer is a resounding no. Not content with its dominance of the American sports and television landscape, the League is spreading its powerful arms across the pond in a bid for world domination in sports. The year 2022 has repeatedly come up as a potential date for the establishment of a London-based NFL franchise. Is this a bit too optimistic? Such a move would be if the NFL were going to establish a brand new team, but I do not think that will be the case, as there is already a decent candidate for relocation.

Let us, for a moment, return to the 2007 NFL season. Other than the Giants’ stunning Super Bowl victory, the most shocking event of the season was the fact the Jacksonville Jaguars actually performed well, finishing at 11-5 for the regular season and competing in the playoffs. Since then, however, the Jaguars have not posted a single winning record and have managed only one second-place finish in the AFC South, recently one of the League’s weakest divisions. This team has proven itself forgettable for so long that no one noticed when it agreed to play one game a year in London from 2013-2016. Also, no one noticed when Jaguars owner Shahid Khan built deep U.K. connections through the purchase of London-based soccer team Fulham FC, potentially working towards an NFL relocation. While Khan denies wanting to move the Jaguars to London, fans clearly have plenty of good reasons to foster suspicions.

So the NFL has a candidate for relocation to London, but how will the League deal with air travel and other logistics? Considering that the NFL teams play a full week apart, long flights are not really such a big deal. Maybe Team London will have to string together some long road trips, but those will be matched by the long homestands. The team would not be at a competitive disadvantage compared to other NFL franchises.

The final piece of the puzzle is the fan base. The NFL claims that London has a fan base that is large enough and cares enough about football to make this team a reality. Since I am currently studying abroad at Oxford, I have met a decent number of British people and I have been surprised by the level of interest and fandom for the American brand of football. In addition to meeting a number of serious NFL fans, I have encountered a good amount of casual fans who could make up Team London’s future fan base. So to those who would argue that locals are only interested in the NFL’s London games as a novelty, you seem to be mistaken. There is real interest for the NFL and certainly the makings of an ardent fan base already in place in the U.K. There is plenty of demand to fill the seats of whatever stadium Team London winds up calling home.

Ultimately, the process of the NFL getting a team to London will be expensive and still has a long way to go before the plan comes to fruition. However, I really think that the pieces are all moving carefully into place for the target date to be met. Come 2022, I predict that the Jacksonville Jaguars will leave their small-market home in northern Florida for a glamorous existence on the far side of the Atlantic. On arrival, the new, rebranded team will be met with open arms by passionate British fans. I highly doubt that the ambitious and profit-hungry NFL will stop with London. Soon football might spread to the European continent, Australia and/or East Asia. The sky is the limit for the NFL.

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