News broke on February 4th, 2020 that the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to be playing two games back to back at this years International Series.
This is history in the making as the NFL have never had a team do this before. This step for the league could mean that perhaps they are preparing to move a franchise to the UK. News such as this will inevitably bring back the debate among UK fans as to whether a franchise would be a good move.
Perhaps the wheels are already in motion and the UK is getting one anyway so here are some reasons it might be time to accept the possibility of it happening.
Let us take a look at some of the positives as to why it would be good having our own franchise.
History of American Football in the UK
American Football is not exactly new to the UK. The sport, since its surge in popularity in the 1980s, is forever growing and doesn’t look as if its going to stop anytime soon. Channel Four picked up the television rights nearly forty years ago and brought it regularly to tv screens.
This popularity increase continued into the 1990s and brought about more participation to the sport. Some of the reasons for that would be teams such as the London Monarchs and the Scottish Claymores. The teams would prove to be popular and the Monarchs also won a World Bowl title in 1991.
With more and more participation the late 1990s saw the formation of the British American Football League. The organisation started as the governing body for the sport, which after it folded in 2010 was replaced by the British American Football Association who are still currently the governing body of the sport in the UK.
After the turn of the century, we saw more access to live games as channels like Sky Sports picked up the rights to show more live games. In 2007 came the biggest prize for American Football fans in the UK: the International Series.
This was a chance to watch live football without having to leave the country. The only thing that could top this, was of course, more games added to the International Series.
Throughout the 2010s, games steadily rose from two in 2013 to four in 2019, with an added bonus that Tottenham Hotspur in 2015 agreed to build a multipurpose stadium specifically designed with hosting American Football in mind.
Would moving to London work?
Whether it is a franchise like the Jaguars moving across to London or a new one being developed here, how would it not be a great opportunity for the NFL?
The infrastructure is already in place, with only a few exceptions to be made, maybe just to tweak facilities for a permanent stay.
It seems since 2013 when the era of hosting more than one game a year started, that London is being tested to see if it can host a team. Perhaps the final part of this test is seeing how a franchise would cope being in the UK for longer than a week. London having been a hub for sports, other events and the home of many sports teams for years, it more than proves its capabilities to be able to provide for an NFL team.
A franchise would feel more than at home in the UK. It will be one of a kind, a flagship for a new era of sport in Britain. Having a sport like this glorious one will inspire a new generation to look at something new and unique. Surely an opportunity as such wouldn’t want to be missed by either the NFL, UK/London or the fans.
What does it mean for the NFL and London?
For the city of London and the NFL it will come down mostly to one thing, money, or at least the opportunity to make lots of it.
The uniqueness of a team in London will not just be an attraction for UK fans.
Already the games bring in visitors from mainland Europe and let’s obviously not forget the fans that come over from the USA to follow their team. More fans being here for more games means a big jump in merchandise sales and more money being spent in the city. The National Football League will already make millions from the International Series games and around the world, so surely adding a unique franchise will only be a benefit to them.
Adding to this new audience to sell to, both parties will see more tv deals, sponsorships and business opportunities. This would be beside the new jobs it could create for the city and surrounding areas.
With the NFL maybe using London as a test, it could be the first part of something bigger.
The International Series is not just games being played in London but Mexico also. This could be the blueprint of the start of more expansions in other countries, creating a worldwide league which would develop the brand even further, especially as American Football is popular in countries such as Germany and Australia too.
More teams in more countries, means more fans and more money to be made, but one step at a time.
What will it mean for the fans?
Obviously not every fan in the UK (and America) is going to be keen on changing the face of the sport. Fans in the USA (especially Jacksonville Jaguars fans in this case) might feel that the sport will be disrupted by moving a franchise here.
Understandably so, a lot of fans would be very angry in this country if their favourite team up sticks and moved, why should this be any different?
Unfortunately, change is inevitable and if the league is sure about this change, then it will happen regardless. This is the harshness and brutality of running a business and especially a sports business. It would be left up to the current fans home and abroad to embrace the potential of what might happen, should it happen.
For fans it shouldn’t mean that they would have to switch allegiances from the team they already support but maybe take the opportunity to be a part of a new team developing in one of their favourite sports.
Let us not forget it would be an opportunity to see more football and would mean a higher chance to be able to get to see your favourite team play. If the subject of atmosphere should arise, we do have to remember that the fans at an IS game are all showing their colours and generally do not support either team they watch. It still does not take anything away from the matchday experience and the overall excitement of the day.
A franchise that would be established in the next few years wouldn’t really be aimed at this or the last couple of generations of fans anyway. This is aimed at bringing the next generation of international fans.
The popularity of the sport is still growing in this country and by the time everything will be set in stone the younger fans will be well and truly established in what the sport is about.
Imagine if this franchise were to take off, it could mean so much.
A team could inspire people to take up a new sport as a hobby or possibly even a career.
If it ends up being successful it could mean more teams and organisations for the UK.
Most of all, as a fan at this moment in time, wouldn’t it be great to be able to have that presence and a proper British identity in the league with a team to call our own.