by George Willoughby
Support for the NFL in the United Kingdom has been rising exponentially since the first game took place at Wembley back in 2007. The New York Giants came away victorious over the Miami Dolphins and it marked the start of the NFL’s international expansion into the UK.
The agreed plan was for one match to be played in London every season, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell continued to push the sport with more agreements made to increase the number of games played in London.
In 2012, the Jacksonville Jaguars confirmed they would play one of their regular-season home games in London for four straight seasons starting in 2013. They would soon extend this through to 2020. During the same year, a second fixture was announced meaning multiple games would be played in the UK for the first time.
This pattern of staging more matches in the UK has continued year-on-year, and we are now at the stage where a total of four NFL games are to be played across London: Wembley, Twickenham, and the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium are the three current venues. It is worth noting is that whilst Tottenham’s stadium will predominantly be used for football, its design was purposefully constructed to accommodate future NFL matches as a part of a 10-year plan.
Since its completion, the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium has already hosted a brilliant match between the Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders. The second encounter at the stadium is between the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday 13 October.
Playing all these games is great, however through the heightened publicity of the sport in the UK and Roger Goodell’s international vision for the NFL, many are wondering whether we might see a franchise based in the UK permanently. This has supposedly always been the target, with the hope of establishing a franchise in London by 2025. But how realistic is this aim?
The first aspect to look at is ownership. Fulham owner Shahid Khan also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars who are very familiar with playing in the UK. The Glazers’ family control the ownership of Tampa Bay, as well as Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke occupying the majority share of the Los Angeles Rams. From this perspective, the links are already there.
In terms of fans, support will be crucial for the creation and longevity of a London franchise. Over 60,000 people packed into the Tottenham Stadium for the first NFL match, and the tickets were extremely difficult to purchase. That one game alone shows the passion of the UK fans, which is another favourable aspect for the potential franchise switch.
Some inevitable obstacles are the transport implications, as the London team and NFL teams will be travelling regularly. This includes players, staff and of course the equipment in what would be a troublesome task of preparing for a trip over the Atlantic. In addition, the ominous problems it could cause to the schedule – especially the post-season. If a team has to play in London for one game in the play-offs, this presents an unfair scenario for the away team.
What makes the NFL in the UK so special is that it is not a weekly occurrence. Tickets sell out at record-breaking speeds because there are limited opportunities to watch American Football throughout the season. The biggest question will be whether the novelty would wear off if there was a permanent London franchise.
Talks of an NFL team in London have been progressing for years now, but with the resounding success of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, it seems like it’s only a matter of time.