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NFL Franchise In London - Should It Happen?
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NFL Franchise In London  -  Should it Happen?

The 6th annual International Series game has been and gone and with the announcement of two regular season games taking place in the capital next year, speculation is mounting that a London based franchise may not be too far away.

The general reaction to this news by NFL fans in the states is a negative one and are quick to criticise commissioner Roger Goodell for exporting the brand globally (it is the national football league after all). Fans in the UK are more positive about the move than ever before and would love the opportunity to watch the superstars of the sport eight times per year. But with many still skeptical about a London franchise in the states, will it ever get the green light? If so, would it be logistically possible to be a success? And if a failure, what would that do to the coverage and popularity of the sport in the UK?

There is no doubt in my mind that the UK is ready for an NFL franchise. The regular season game held at Wembley Stadium has sold out 6 years running now, television coverage in the UK constantly improves and the announcement of two games next year only cements further the popularity of the sport in this country. I'm getting tired of reading the same nonsense in US media outlets that we don't understand what's happening on the field, that we cheer at the wrong places and the general atmosphere at the games is stale.

This couldn't be further from the truth and really is just lazy journalism. If US media officials and naysayers in general took the time to actually talk to NFL fans in the UK, they would soon realise that we are actually very knowledgable about the sport. The notion that we cheer at the wrong times during the game is rubbish too. The game between the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots at Wembley last Sunday was always going to create a split crowd. The Rams may have been the home team but the Pats have a vast following in this country, therefore the reaction of the crowd was always going to be mixed. Combine this with the fact that the game was a blowout and got out of hand fast meant that the crowd could tell that the contest was more or less over by half time, hence why the atmosphere was somewhat subdued in the second half. Let's not forget that because we only get to host one game per year, fans just want to see action in general. Therefore a touchdown is always going to get cheered whether it was scored by the home team or not.

I can also tell you that I've never really found Wembley Stadium to have an incredible atmosphere anyway (it certainly isn't Lambeau field). The atmosphere in 80,000 + capacity stadiums always gets lost in the sheer size of the venue. Cowboys stadium is an impressive stadium as a spectacle but the atmosphere comes across as non-existent sometimes. In fact, if a franchise in London did get the go ahead, it would be in the leagues best interest to stage the games at the Olympic Stadium. The atmosphere in the stadium during the summer games was electric and would be a far more suitable choice in terms of selling out 8 regular season home matches. This ill founded belief in America that we don't know what we're talking about over here needs to be put to bed because it really is embarrassing.

The only thing that really worries me about having a London-based franchise is the logistics behind making it become a success. Selling out the games and creating a hype about the franchise in this country wouldn't be a problem. The problem lies with creating hype and enthusiasm in the states among everyone connected with the sport. It seems that only the lesser teams in the league are willing to give up a home game and make the long trip across the Atlantic for the annual regular season game. Would the Green Bay Packers or the Pittsburgh Steelers give up a home game to play in London? Not a chance.

For the move to work effectively, the London franchise would have to play four or five home games in a row before travelling to the states to play a series of games on the road. The travelling seems like the biggest issue here logistically but when you consider the journey east coast teams make when they play west coast teams (or vice versa), there really isn't a great deal of difference in traveling time. Therefore on the face of it, the logistics travel-wise really shouldn't be a problem. It's more the reaction of the NFL community in the states that continues to hinder the progress of a franchise abroad. However with commissioner Goodell's constant praise of the UK NFL fan base and even New England supremo Robert Kraft weighing in with his approval of a London based franchise, it appears to be inevitable that it will happen somewhere down the road.

With the constant success of the international series and the prospect of more games to come, I predict that an NFL franchise will be here within the next decade. If it did happen I would certainly jump at the chance to buy a season pass. I thoroughly enjoy my annual pilgrimage to Wembley but one game a year just isn't enough and many other fans in the UK feel the same. My main concern about a franchise over here is the prospect of it failing. The league has tested the water before with the introduction of NFL Europe which turned out to be a complete bomb.

If a London based franchise were to fail, what would become of the sport in this country? Would coverage of the sport decline? Perhaps more worryingly, would the league pull our international series games too? It's a definite possibility. However that's looking into the future a bit too much. Let's just enjoy the crest of popularity the sport is riding in this country and see where this crazy wave takes us. Just don't say that us Brits don't know what we're talking about because that really grinds our gears.


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