The NFL to London: Can It Work?

BY ANASTASIA MONTAVON

The NFL released the 2015 International Series schedule and next year, three games will be played in London.

The Miami Dolphins will square off against the New York Jets in Week 4, the Jacksonville Jaguars will take on the Buffalo Bills in Week 7 and the Kansas City Chiefs will play the Detroit Lions in Week 8.

As usual, this season’s London games went very well, and there’s more talk of putting a permanent franchise in London. There have even been reports that the NFL envisions a team in London by 2022. Different people have different opinions on this.

Until a couple of months ago I was one those who absolutely refused to accept a team in London. While I still don’t think a team in London will last, the NFL is bound to end up putting one there anyway. What exactly would a team in London need to survive?

The most obvious obstacle is the distance. The cost of travel is going to be exorbitant—both in capital and on the team. When this hypothetical London franchise has to play in, let’s say San Diego, it is a 10.5-hour flight. With 16 games a season (not including preseason and postseason), they will, in theory, have to play eight games on the road. Besides putting another conference overseas, there’s really no way to get around this obvious barrier. While the league should have no trouble paying for the travel expenses, the toll on the players is going to be high, mentally and physically.

One way to lighten the load on the other NFL teams would be to have the majority of the London club’s home schedule take place during the bye season. Therefore, the U.S. franchises could have a week to either prepare or recover from the lengthy trip. It would also make sense for the London team to play multiple weeks in a row on the road, preventing them from having to fly back and forth every week. However, scheduling a playoff game in London will be challenging. If this new franchise were to make the playoffs, I can see them being forced to play on the road.

There’s also the risk that the NFL is expecting too much from the city of London. Yes, the International Series receives great reviews year after year. But there’s a chance that American football is just a novelty to Londoners. It will probably be exciting at first, but after a season or two, will attendance still be good? Or will England grow tired of the NFL?

Before the NFL puts a team there, they need to take a good look at what it will take to have long term success. They need to figure out a way to keep attendance up and keep them interested in the sport. This is probably the most important variable for long term success.

And then, there is the fact that basing a franchise in London just creates an inconvenience. The time difference will make it impossible for the London team to play an American primetime Sunday, Monday or Thursday night game at home. There’s also the problem of recruitment. Not many players will be willing to drop everything and move to London, in a country that doesn’t really understand the sport they make a living to play. Obviously, if they’re paid enough, they’ll do it, but that might cause an issue with the salary cap.

In short, a team in London is definitely doable. But will the team be successful long term? That’s the real question, and I worry the NFL isn’t taking it seriously enough.

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