LONDON, England. It’s October time, we’re already into week four of the NFL season and the annual buzz of the International Series fills the air once again. The slow, zooming camera captures the rainbow of jerseys parading up Wembley Way. The ranging demographic of people is so vast it can be hard to put into words, their only common ground? Football.
Some may be here for their first game, others season ticket holders. A mix of neutrals and supporters of the teams playing. The novelty and rarity of getting to watch a regular season NFL game is such a big pull for fans all over the UK and Europe. Each year we await the lottery of announcements on the teams who will be coming to play and hold our breath in excitement in the hope that our team will be making the trip. It’s this excitement and anticipation that forces us to ask the question: Does London need an NFL franchise?
With the recent announcement that the Jacksonville Jaguars will play not one, but two regular season home games in Wembley next season, the reoccurring debate on the validity and necessity of a franchise in London reared its head again. Over the next few paragraphs I will attempt to convince you why it doesn’t.
As I had alluded to in the intro, there is a certain uniqueness about going to Wembley for a game. It’s a spectacle and in the case of many, a one off experience. We know that October is basically London month for the NFL and each year we look forward to hosting teams and their fans from different cities from all across America. They bring with them their own distinctive ways of preparing for, watching and celebrating games (See: Buffalo > Tables).
If, in the future a London franchise were to exist, don’t you think we would undoubtedly lose this special feeling? This once annual spectacle would become a biweekly occurrence and would lose some of its shine. Don’t get me wrong, I think Wembley would be bunged to the rafters for the full eight games, but perhaps only the first season. Going forward, be it 90,000 or 50,000 in attendance, how many of those will be London fans? I think the only thing to really attract people to return would be whoever the visiting team is.
Haven’t we all got a team we chose to follow? Okay, maybe not everyone has but if I were to take a stab in the dark I’d say an easy 90% of us have already laid our loyalties elsewhere. Are we expected to down tools and jump ship simply because a franchise has been brought geographically closer to us? If that was part of the criteria of following a team I wouldn’t be a Seattle fan. 6,000 miles away and I have no intentions of changing.
A London team would be more a UK team if anything and on that very basis there would be some fans who would have to endure 6-8 hours of travelling one way just to get to the game. I’m not sure we have the support levels yet for fans to be doing this eight times a year.
If it’s about creating new fans as opposed to converting the older generation, realistically we wouldn’t see the benefit of that for close to 15 years. Until the next generation of football fans come through and can say “I grew up watching the London Jaguars”, we will not have enough devoted London fans to keep the team afloat.
This section is a double edged sword. So much of the success of a London team would be based on performance. What if, after its inception, the team is completely rubbish?
Players can’t adjust to their new lives away from home, they aren’t committed or “on board” with the idea of spending an entire season in England. What sort of pulling power would the team have towards free agents and potential draft prospects? You would have to imagine very little.
No superstars, no wins. No wins, no fans. No fans… no point.
Now, on the other hand (albeit unlikely), what if the team is really good? Like Super Bowl contender good?
They go on to secure home field advantage in the playoffs, how the hell would that work? Teams who travel outside of the states for a game are often given 7+ months of notice to prepare and figure out logistics in relation to the trip. Are we all of a sudden supposed to expect teams to have a constant “London contingency plan” at the ready in case they end up with a trip across the pond on a week or twos notice? It just seems like a complete nightmare for players, families, coaches and teams in general.
One final note. If I were a fan of the team being relocated I would be angry beyond belief. Think of how upset the city of St. Louis was when they lost the Rams, San Diego and the Chargers or Oakland and the Raiders. But how do you justify to an entire city and fan base that you are moving country? I get it’s a business but that just seems heart-wrenchingly unforgivable.
I get there will be people who will be utterly opposed to everything I have just said and that’s their opinion, but what do you think? Let me know @MichaelLavery on Twitter, I would love to hear your thoughts.