View From Across the Pond – International Expansion Key to NFL Future

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The NFL, in my opinion, needs to spread its wings, or be left behind as other North American sports overtake it in popularity. Baseball is huge in Central and South America as well as Japan, and stars from those countries gravitate to the MLB. In Basketball, the MVP in the NBA finals was Dirk Nowitzki, a German. The NBA draft was full of players from Europe, whilst the games latest superstar in waiting is Ricky Rubio, a Spaniard. Ice Hockey is
full of European players with Zdeno Chara of Slovakia leading the Boston Bruins to Stanley Cup glory.

The NFL has no stars from anywhere else in the world, simply because the game is not played to any decent standard anywhere else. The most famous British exports to the NFL are kickers John Smith, who played for the
Patriots in the 70’s and Mick Luckhurst who was at Atlanta in the early 80’s, just as the game became popular over here. The number of players who have made it big from outside the USA is a handful at the most.

If the NFL did attempt to expand globally who knows what could happen. I’m sure there are very few people even ten years ago who thought that international players such as Pau Gasol, Yao Ming and even the UK’s Luol Deng would have made such an impact in the NBA.

So following on from expanding the International series, in the words of the Commissioner himself, “the idea of a franchise is realistic.” And if there is to be a new franchise, then London is the ideal place to have it.

As I mentioned last week, the UK is the most sensible option on the table, if the league is to expand internationally. We speak the same language, we have close cultural ties and we love the game. We have a stadium perfect for the event, as has been proven, and a Football Association who are desperate for regular events to be held there to pay for it! Anywhere else in the world, there would be language barriers, making it difficult for the staff
and players to settle.

Obviously a downside would be the travelling, but the London franchise would have it worse, having to make eight trips stateside each year (unless they “bunched” the road games into blocks of two or four). There would also be no chance of a Monday Night Football game being played at Wembley as the kick-off would be at 2am UK time!

The talk in the NFL at the moment is of a franchise relocating to Los Angeles. The city currently has two consortiums bidding to build a facility, the most high profile one being that of AEG who want to build a facility in downtown LA. This would be situated next to the Staples Center, home of the Lakers. It is rumoured that San Diego, Minnesota, Jacksonville, St Louis and Oakland are the possible franchises wishing to move to the City of
Angels.

Why would the NFL even consider this though? It is understandable that they want a team in LA, the most glamorous city in the USA, and home of their TV network but haven’t we been here before? Both the Raiders and the Rams, possible candidates to relocate, have played in LA and moved out. Why should a city be given a third chance to have a team, when it has failed to support two teams already?

The NFL cannot keep going back to places where it has been before if it wants to grow. Baltimore, Cleveland and Houston lost franchises, but got new ones back. The whole point of expansion is to expand, not keep falling back into holes it has already left. If the game is to develop outside the USA, then it has to search out new boundaries and London could be its new frontier.

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