Tuesday Team Talk: NFL London team nears reality despite long-term doubts

The dream of a London NFL franchise has taken a further step towards becoming a reality after securing two games a season until 2020, but can London really have its own team?

Since staging its first NFL game at Wembley in 2007, Britain’s appetite for the game has been reflected in a packed out national stadium whenever ‘America’s game’ is in town.

There is also the option to extend the agreement for five more years beyond 2020 and Executive Vice President of International Mark Waller said there are more exciting times ahead.

“It is very exciting to be making this announcement in the same week that we will reach one million fans for the International Series in London,” he said.

“These agreements reiterate the NFL’s commitment to the UK, with two stadium deals running concurrently.

“This new agreement extends a very successful, long-term relationship.”

The agreement also includes games to be played at Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium which is due to be completed in 2017.

“To be playing in Wembley, the national stadium, and at Tottenham, in what will be London’s newest stadium, is fantastic.”

Sunday saw the second of three games played at Wembley in 2015 as the Jacksonville Jaguars edged out the Buffalo Bills in front of a sold out stadium.

Jaguars are the team most associated with the concept of an NFL franchise and they have committed to playing one league game at Wembley every year until 2020.

On the Jaguars’ commitment to expanding the game outside of America, Waller added: “We are very appreciative of the Jaguars extending their commitment to the UK market.

“It emphasises the club’s and league’s strong ambition to continue to grow the fan-base for NFL football beyond the borders of the United States.”

Jags owner Shahid Khan said: “Our four-year London initiative has been every bit as rewarding as we anticipated, certainly in large part to the league’s commitment to the UK and the world class experience that Wembley Stadium has provided the Jaguars, our fans and our partners.

“Our interest in extending our agreement to play a home game each season in London is nothing new. So, we’re very happy to make it official. 

“This is great news for the Jaguars and the stability of the team in Jacksonville, which has come to embrace London as our home away from home.”

So, plenty of good news for both the NFL and London but how long will it be before the idea of a London team is properly considered and what could stop the dream becoming a reality?

Firstly, the NFL have to be sure that people will turn out for eight games per season not just two or three.

Perhaps the novelty will wear off for some, however the impressive London crowds show no signs of abating.

So, in terms of a fan base, this isn’t an issue that should hold back a London franchise.

A more pressing concern is the logistics of a London-based team.

Clearly, London isn’t a trip down the road for NFL sides and there would certainly be opposition from American fans, players and officials.

Travelling 3,459 miles for their eight away fixtures would be some burden on the playing and coaching staff for a London team, not to mention the added problem of different time zones.

Although the logistical challenges clearly provide the biggest stumbling block to a London franchise, there are ways round it, albeit complicated.

The NFL would have to consider scheduling home games and away games in separate blocks for a London-based side.

This would result in further debate as to the fairness of the competition but where there’s a will there’s a way.

As for which team would be moved to London, the obvious choice would be the Jaguars.

Indeed some have already started using the name London Jaguars in reference to a London-based franchise.

Khan is in love with the city of London, describing it as ‘the centre of the universe’ and also buying Fulham Football Club.

The average attendance for the Jags last season was 59,000, some 30,000 short of the crowd that turned out at Wembley on Sunday.

However even he refused to wholeheartedly back the idea of moving his side to London.

“I think imagination is a crazy thing and that’s what makes the world go around,” he said.

“But it’s been great thing for us to play a game here and to continue doing so for the near future.”

So will there be a London NFL franchise?

It seems inevitable. It’s more a case of when.

However, the logistical concern is one that won’t go away and it will take passion and drive to fight for a London side.

If Khan isn’t willing to put up the fight, it could take longer than the 15-year plan set out in 2007 despite the NFL’s growing popularity in the UK.

Image courtesy of TiE SiliconValley, with thanks.

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