A potential NFL franchise in London has long been a topic of discussion amongst league officials. Expansion, in general, has been widely discussed with NFL expansion to Europe being one possible option.
NFL franchise in London
The league has hosted regular-season games in London since 2007, and it’s gotten to the point where it’s tough to pick the best NFL London games because the experiment has been such a success. But is London getting an NFL team at any point in the near future? Let’s explore this topic a little closer.
Home Sweet Home
The one thing an NFL franchise in London would surely need is a stadium. The good news is that a potential new NFL team in London would have that. While Wembley Stadium and Twickenham Stadium have both been used for NFL games and could potentially host a London franchise, Tottenham Hotspur is the most likely home for a London franchise.
The stadium opened in 2019 for English Premier League club Tottenham, but it was also built with American football in mind. It comes with two different fields, one for soccer and one for football.
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium also has NFL-sized locker rooms and other facilities needed to host NFL games. Granted, there might be some scheduling challenges with soccer matches also being played there, but Tottenham Hotspur Stadium would be an ideal home for an NFL franchise in London, which is one huge question that would already be answered if there was NFL expansion to London.
Fans vs Fan Base
Of course, one potential obstacle to any NFL franchise in London or any other city is if there would be enough of a fanbase to support the team. London surely has enough people to support an NFL franchise. Also, American football has grown in popularity throughout the U.K., which is why every NFL game in London attracts a big crowd.
The catch is there’s a difference between fans and a fanbase. The NFL has become so popular that most football fans in the U.K. already have a favorite team. Is it a guarantee that U.K. fans who already have an allegiance to an NFL team would automatically switch to a London franchise?
Keep in mind that fans attending NFL games in London often wear the apparel of their favorite team, even if that team isn’t one of the teams playing. This would be a potential risk that seems unavoidable with a new NFL franchise in London and could potentially impact the success of the franchise.
The Travel Issue
One of the biggest challenges for an NFL franchise in London would be travel. A full-time franchise in London would have to make several trips back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean every season. With clever scheduling, the number of trips could be reduced as much as possible. But it would be unavoidable to have the London team rack up far more travel miles than any other team in the league.
It’s one thing for a half-dozen teams to make one trip to London every year. But it’s another issue for a London-based team to fly to the East Coast of the U.S., and occasionally the West Coast, at least once or twice every month during a four-month regular season.
Even if the NFL adds a second bye week for teams at one point, it’s tough to ask a team to do that much traveling. On top of that, the logistics of moving the people and equipment required for an NFL game across an ocean several times a year is almost mind-boggling. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution that can dismiss the travel issue or alter the fact that London is so far from every other NFL franchise.
London’s location also brings up competitive balance issues. It’s possible that a London-based franchise would have a bigger home-field advantage than any other NFL team because of the distance any visiting team would have to traverse to play a game. West Coast teams would have to make an eight-hour adjustment during game week while even East Coast teams would be five hours off.
Meanwhile, it might be easier for a London team to adjust to the time difference when traveling to the U.S. to play because they would be gaining hours via the time change.
On the other hand, would a London team have an unfair advantage when it comes to free agency? Would top free agents immediately dismiss the idea of signing with London’s team because they don’t want to relocate to another country or endure all of the extra travel?
That could make it difficult for a London NFL franchise to be consistently competitive, which could make it harder for the team to maintain a loyal fanbase. If that were to happen, it would potentially negate some of the benefits of having an NFL team based in London.
Sharing is Caring
With so many pressing questions that lack a clear answer when it comes to an NFL team in London, one potential solution would be one franchise operating via a timeshare. Essentially, one team would play half of its home games in the U.S. and half in London. That would give fans in London a team that they can call their own while reducing the travel and logistical challenges as much as possible.
However, this is far from an ideal solution.
That team’s fanbase in the U.S. would likely feel slighted at not having a full-time team. That could reduce fan loyalty and interest in the U.S. market while also struggling to turn a majority of London-based football fans into fans of the city’s part-time team. Despite solving some of the problems standing in the way of a London-based NFL franchise, it would also create new problems.
There’s also the question of what team would agree to split its time between its current home and London.
Will the NFL Expand to Europe?
On the list of potential NFL expansion cities, it’s impossible not to include London and perhaps a couple of other European cities. However, the odds of the NFL expanding to Europe anytime in the immediate future are slim to none. The travel and logistical challenges are far too great and don’t have any solutions that would alleviate all possible concerns.
One long-term solution would be to have an entire four-team division of teams based in Europe. This would allow the four European-based teams to play most of their regular-season games in Europe, reducing the number of times they fly to the U.S. and reducing the number of teams that have to fly to Europe, assuming the NFL can perform some creative scheduling.
However, such an idea wouldn’t be feasible until the NFL is ready to expand by eight teams, giving the league 40 total teams. Such an idea has been kicked around but is years away from coming to fruition.
Keep in mind that a permanent team outside the U.S. would require changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which runs through the 2030 season. That might be the earliest that the NFL would be able to take concrete steps toward a full-time franchise in London or anywhere else in Europe.
In the meantime, the league continues to experience great success playing a few games every year in London. As long as that continues to be the case, the door for an NFL franchise in London or somewhere else in Europe will remain ajar.