The last two weeks has seen me write about the NFL in London, its history and the fact that certain members of the NFL alumni feel less than enamoured about the prospects of a visit to the UK to promote their sport. All this talk has been leading me down one route, a discussion on the possibility of the NFL developing the one game a year that is currently played into the ultimate for British NFL fans – a franchise in London.
Before heading down that route, lets rewind to October last year, the last time the NFL was in town. The game between San Francisco and Denver was one of a supposed two games to be held in the UK during the last NFL
season. There was talk of a second game to be played, possibly in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, at the City’s Millennium Stadium. This was a facility built for the 1999 Rugby World Cup, and in a feature unique to British stadia boasts a retractable roof, allowing the inclement weather to be kept out. This meant that should a game be held there, it would not be a repeat of the 2007 “Splash Bowl” between Miami and the New York Giants in which torrential rain spoilt the first regular season game in the UK.
The global financial crisis put a stop to that. The NFL, already finding it difficult to persuade one team to give up a home game, knew that finding a second would be impossible. However, Commissioner Roger Goodell on his visit to London last year told reporters: “Each year, the different barometers indicate that our popularity continues to rise,” adding: “I think the next step will be multiple games. And if that’s successful then I think the idea of a franchise here is realistic.”
Goodell was talking about Europe as a whole, rather than just the UK, and with an extension of the regular season one of the sticking points no doubt being talked about in lawyer’s offices during the lockout, there is a fantastic opportunity to spread the gospel of the NFL.
The proposed 18 game schedule will offer the opportunity for one of these games to be part of an expanded International Series. One week of the season could see the cream of the NFL scattered around the world, playing
real meaningful games in front of audiences desperate to watch the action in the flesh. The teams and thier fans wouldn’t have to worry about losing gate money from a home game, and the League could organise the schedules so that the teams who play nine home games the first season, only get 8 home games the following season.
All the money from the International Games would be collected into one pot and distributed evenly among the 32 teams, so that those that might play in a game with a smaller attendance do not lose out to those who play larger venues. Games could be played in Canada, Mexico, Japan, Germany and Holland, two countries who continued to support NFL Europe long after we had given up on it, as well as the UK.