News of an NFL franchise in London has come up again with Patriot owner Robert Kraft saying he wants a franchise in London before 2020. Of course he's not the only one that has publicly his desire to have a franchise playing permanently overseas. Roger Goodell has been vocal as well about the NFL looking to have a franchise in London. Everyone in the NFL that speaks of such a thing only speaks of the positives, but the NFL may need to look deeper into the issue.
The good: The benefits of a move area constantly stated and are plainly obvious. The NFL is quick to say it is good to generate worldwide interest in American football, which in turn should mean more profit for the NFL. That is a win for every owner and player in the NFL. A new team could move straight into Wembley Stadium if they decide they can't or don't need to build a new stadium. The stadium would be the largest in the NFL and is currently the second largest stadium in Europe. Unlike Los Angeles, the city of London is ready to host a permanent NFL franchise immediately. Everything seems fine and dandy at a simple glance. Heck, maybe the NFL can one day have an International Division with teams in London, Mexico City, Berlin, and Toronto. Just pl
ease keep them out of the AFC so the Dolphins don't have to travel to Europe every year.
The bad: For the first time, a NFL city would be the smaller draw in a city. Can you name a NFL team right now where they are considered a second sport? A team in London wouldn't be the Dallas Cowboys in Texas. They'd be like the Miami Marlins in Florida. The NFL is simply not used to playing second fiddle. This doesn't just apply to London itself, but Wembley Stadium as well. The stadium hosts rugby and soccer during the NFL season and the NFL won't be the top dog in scheduling events in the stadium. NFL clubs have pushed other leagues such as MLB to reschedule events where games would be scheduled in conflict, but they'll find that they're no longer the bullies, but the small kid on the block if and when they run into similar problems in England. A NFL game on Tuesday? It might be a possibility.
Beyond the NFL being the small kid on the block, the NFL needs to take a poll of their players. This doesn't mean a quick poll of the players and do it anyways. It is easy to imagine a NFL club in London having a hard time signing free agents. Would players want to move to England for at least six months, especially with kids in American schools? Will they want to pay the high tax rate in England and pay higher prices on simple items such as gasoline? There would also be issues with players not wanting to fly thousand of miles every week or two just to play an away game in the United States. That has to be tiring on players and the coaching staff to travel that much. They would practically be unable to play back-to-back away games because of flights. A London team would play in the U.S. on Sunday, fly back to London and land on Monday, only to fly back to the U.S. on Friday. They'd be better off just flying to their next city in the U.S. to play their next game. How many people would want to do that? Without being able to draw in free agents, a London team can find themselves staking claim at the basement of the NFL as they may only have draft picks and overpaid players to rely on. If there is a good amount of NFL players that would say they are willing to play for a team in London, the situation could work out, but this is a situation where the NFL needs to work closely with the NFLPA to make sure such a move is feasible before it completely backfires.
Even if players are willing to play in London, can just imagine the fiasco if a player or a group of players are unable to London for the game. What if the player doesn't have a passport or forgets it? Think Robert Kraft will be happy if Tom Brady forgets his passport when he arrives at the airport to fly to London? What if England blocks a player from going to England because of legal problems? They've done it before. What will happen if a player, visiting or not, gets arrested in England? Is the NFL willing to deal with that fight?
Will interest in an NFL team remain strong in London is another question. London has worked out for the NFL with a single game a year, but they also end up selling a few thousand tickets to American fans that travel to London to watch their team play. The NFL won't have that luxury if the team is based in London. London remains interested in a single game, but will they remain interested for a full eight or more games at the stadium each year? You can play a NFL game in North Dakota once a year and likely sell the game out, but that doesn't mean it is viable to host a team year round. It has a draw because it's a unique opportunity. Much like how crowds started out strong and then declined with the NFL Europe, it's possible the same can happen with a London franchise.
Other teams may take issue with a move as well. Which division would welcome a London team and be fine with traveling to Europe at least once a year to play football? Ultimately, that would be a lot of money to send a team back to England on a flight and stay in hotels every year just to play a division opponent. I can only pray they'd put the team in the NFC East instead of the AFC East. We already know they're not going to the AFC or NFC West.
Before the NFL looks to put a team in London, they need to take a look at how they can fill the empty stadiums in Oakland, Tampa Bay, and Jacksonville first. They also need to make sure they get the stadium situations in St. Louis and San Diego figured out. The last thing the NFL needs is a bottom-dweller team in London that struggles to fill the stadium as well.
And to Robert Kraft, you may want to reconsider how good going to London is for your Patriots when New England plays as the home team in London. In their two trips to London, the Patriots have been the visiting team. The move is good for New England as he claims because the NFL has yet to take away a Patriot home game when sending them to England. See if a yearly visit is such a good thing when you have your own fans complaining about having seven home games a year instead of eight. Just ask Buffalo how that feels.