London already has plenty of football.
The city is home to 14 professional clubs that belong to the English Football Association and over 80 amateur clubs. And if next-James-Bond-villain-material Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, has his way, the very first American football club could soon be calling somewhere within the Queen’s kingdom home as well.
Britain’s treasury chief, Chancellor George Osborne, has been receptive to the idea of a franchise based in London. Osborne said “the real prize, the touchdown, for London, would be to get a team based here” and that he “wants London to be the global sporting capital.”
Not that Goodell cares what the players in his league think of him, but putting a full-time franchise in London would be an absolute disaster. The first issue is picking which team to jettison across the pond. Say you can coerce an owner into abandoning a fan base stateside, what division is the team going to belong to? How can a team in London belong to the American Football Conference? But if Goodell wants to tap into the market abroad, there is the route the league is already taking: hosting exhibitions.
The NFL has been playing regular season exhibition games in London since 2007 at Wembley Stadium. For English soccer fans, Wembley Stadium is hallowed ground as it is the home field for England’s international team.
But what does the NFL send to London every year to exhibit the best the NFL has to offer? Khan! I’m not talking about Wrath of Khan, but the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Shahid Khan. He has had his floundering franchise playing one game in London every season since 2013 and plans on another next season.
The next step for evil mastermind Goodell after exhibitions would be a full-time franchise in London to make one poor division the unluckiest in professional sports regarding travel time. The only thing consistent about Goodell is if he wants something done, it gets done. His judgement, however, is not always the greatest.
NFL fans have seen a lockout in 2011, the Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Ray Rice situations, Deflategate, Bountygate, and the concussion crisis all develop under Goodell’s watch, and in every situation Goodell has come across looking clueless and out of touch. Moving a franchise to London is potentially the next folly on Goodell’s desk. There isn’t a way to do this without alienating an entire fanbase and forcing a division realignment.
However, football in London is not a bad idea. One interesting idea HBO’s newest toy, Bill Simmons, semi-seriously suggested was instead of Thursday night football, which is just ugly to watch because teams have so little time to prepare, is to host an exhibition game every week in London during the 9:30 a.m. timeslot.
If Simmons’ idea sounds like a pipe dream, that’s because it is. The NFL made $300 million selling its Thursday night football package to CBS for the 2015 season. But it is a better idea than a franchise based in London. The idea of waking up Sunday morning with NFL football on and watching football for almost 14 hours straight is enticing to a NFL addict like myself and the United States as a whole.
Whether or not there is a market for it in London is irrelevant to Goodell and the league; they’ve made it pretty clear with their misleading polls that it doesn’t matter to them. For a football-hungry nation like the ours, the proposition of more than half a day’s worth of football is so intoxicating we simply forget about all the problems that go into making that fix attainable.
FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: VTRAVELLED.COM