NFL Expansion: A Choice that Makes Dollars, but Doesn’t Make Sense
By Abram Erickson
It’s a Sunday afternoon in the near future, and all around the country, football fans are getting ready to watch a full slate of NFL games. Some drive to the stadium to take in the game in person, others tailgate outside, and some are content to stay home and watch the action from the comfort of their couch.
The picture I’ve painted seems like a normal autumn Sunday in America, right?
Wrong. These fans aren’t tuning in to root for the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears, or even the Dallas Cowboys, “America’s Team.” Instead, they’re watching their hometown team, the NFL’s newest expansion team. The one that now plays in London, England.
England may be getting an NFL team, and it could be soon. NFL leadership thinks this is what is best for American Football, and more importantly, their league. That’s where they’re wrong.
Talk about moving an NFL team to London has been around since the NFL began its “NFL International Series” in 2007. Prior to this time, a few NFL teams had played in the “American Bowl” each year from 1986 until 2005. During this time, multiple games—all of which were preseason or exhibition matches—were played in large cities overseas; places like London, Tokyo, Berlin, Mexico City and others. While these games offered people from other countries the chance to experience the NFL, they were simply seen as a novelty.
That all changed in 2005, when the American Bowl stopped being played, and the NFL was forced to find a new way to promote the game of football internationally. They decided that this was through the NFL International Series, and since 2007, 26 NFL games have been played in London, to large success among English fans.
The International Series has been seen by many as the NFL testing the viability of having an NFL franchise in London, and it appears that NFL leadership has been pleased. Commissioner Roger Goodell looks increasingly ready for the move, despite a multitude of glaring issues–all of which he seems much too willing to overlook.
Loads of Logistical Problems
The first problems with moving an NFL franchise to London are logistical. To begin, there is no good way to decide which team heads to London. If any current team moved, it would be robbing an established fan base and would effectively turn an entire city against the NFL. Put a brand new franchise in London, and now there are an odd number of NFL teams (33), which creates a scheduling nightmare.
Even if a team is established, setting the schedule would still be extremely difficult. The new team would have to play at least of half of their games in the U.S., giving them a distinct disadvantage, as they played half of their games jet-lagged due to the greatly increased travel time.
Both the opposing teams coming to London and the London team traveling to the U.S. would not only have to make the long flight, but would have to bring all of their gear with them, and the amount of equipment NFL teams use each week is astounding. For their 2018 matchup in London, the Seattle Seahawks shipped 10 tonnes (11.2 U.S. tons) of equipment to the game. Asking teams to do so once during the year for the International Series is one thing, but doing it multiple times during the season is another thing entirely.
Not only do the logistics not make sense, but the NFL isn’t exactly in a great position for big changes, especially with their own fans here in America. In a 2017 poll, the Remington Research Group asked Americans a series of questions about the NFL, and the results were astounding. The first question asked the respondent’s opinion of President Donald Trump, to which 46 percent responded that they have a favorable opinion of him. Question two was the same question, instead asked about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Even compared to the low public opinion of President Trump, Goodell’s number was dismal: only 12 percent of respondents view him favorably.
This is just the first of many indicators that American fans aren’t happy with the leadership or current state of the NFL. In the last year alone, the NFL has divided the country with political protest, experienced more issues with domestic violence, and continued to be scrutinized on the issue of player safety. To be short; the NFL is in its most uncertain time in years. It is not time to make a major change.
Before focusing on another country, the NFL needs to sort things out in America, where they have the home-field advantage. Here in America, football is still the most-watched sport, and that isn’t likely to change in the future. Moving to England would be heading into foreign territory, both literally and figuratively.
Soccer dominates in England, and though the NFL has seen good attendance numbers in games played in England, some research shows that many existing English NFL fans wouldn’t even root for a London franchise as their chosen team. We’ve seen the same thing happen in America with Major League Soccer. Though the sport continues to grow in America, it isn’t anywhere near the popularity of the other four major sports. That’s because although American soccer fans now have teams to root for close to home, American soccer is still seen as inferior to the International game.
The worst thing the NFL could do would be to move a franchise to London before England is ready, and have the quality of play suffer because of it. For a team to work, it would have to be a perennial Super Bowl contender, and nothing less. But with a smaller fan base and all of the disadvantages we’ve already covered, there’s speculation that elite players would even consider playing in England.
Some players, like Todd Gurley, the NFL’s current leading running back, have pushed back against international games. “Terrible,” Gurley said back in 2017, when asked if he has been able to get into a routine with an unconventional schedule. “They need to stop this, all this stuff. This London, this Mexico City stuff, it needs to stop.”
For the Love of Money?
In the end, making this type of move clearly doesn’t make sense for NFL players or American fans. That’s because these aren’t the parties that stand to benefit from the move.
Despite all of the obvious disadvantages, the NFL is still pushing for a London franchise because the NFL is still a business. They see a huge market of new fans in England, and with that, they see the potential to make a lot of money.
What the NFL must realize, though, is that making a decision based on money could mean betraying the two entities that keep it alive—players and fans. Because in the end, the choice of moving an NFL franchise to England means choosing sides; between a hypothetical English fan base, or one in America that’s strong, loyal, and life-long.
For a business as greedy as the NFL, it’s hard to overlook the option that makes dollars and take the one that only makes sense.
But this time, the NFL can’t afford to make the wrong choice.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com