Will the NFL catch on in London?

The NFL is hosting three games in London this year. And they hosted four there last year. So what exactly is the NFL hoping for? Why do they keep playing games in England? Will London get an NFL team? There are all sorts of rumors floating around, but in the face of all that hype, there are also the usual naysayers.

The Jags are playing in London again this year – it’s become their “home away from home” – and these overseas games tend to spark a plethora of speculation about whether the NFL can expand into European markets. Can we really expect an NFL team in London by 2022? Because that’s what the NFL thinks…

No, seriously. Mark Waller, the NFL’s executive vice president of international, says that over in London, they’ve got the support of the fans, stadium, city, and government, and he thinks the capital is ready. Sounds legit right? He’s previously said he thinks the NFL could have as many as two overseas franchises in the coming decade. The NFL has been hosting games overseas since 2007, calling them the NFL International Series, with a game in Mexico City last year as well. It’s no secret that the reason the NFL continues to play games in London, in particular, is because it hopes to establish a permanent presence across the pond.

Another hint that they’re really digging in over in London? The previously named “NFL International Series” is now being called “NFL London.”

They’re also investing in infrastructure. Unfortunately, that stadium that the NFL partnered with Tottenham Hotspur to get fitted with all sorts of NFL requirements – bigger changing rooms, a retractable soccer pitch to make way for the artificial NFL field, etc. – won’t be ready in time for the October Seahawks-Raiders game in London.

After dipping their toes into the London and Mexico City scene, the NFL is hoping future years will lead them into Germany and China as well. In China, the NFL has a marketing office and runs clinics with big names like Joe Montana to attract new fans and players. That’s another thing. The NFL may also want to expand in order to bring in new international talent. Think about it. The MLB, NBA, and NFL (and obviously professional soccer) all have lots of players who come from abroad. The NFL, not so much. A team in Europe – or anywhere else outside of America – would definitely change that.

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But for now, the UK seems to be the most ready-made audience for American football and that’s one of the reasons Brits are the NFL’s newest target market. Fans – or just casual attendees – have already been exposed to the sport over the past 11 years. The turnout in London is always great – the NFL sells out games at Twickenham and Wembley each season. It’s too bad most of the recent games in London have been total blowouts (see Jaguars beating the Ravens, 44-7, the Saints crushing the Dolphins, 22-0, and the Rams shutting out the Cardinals, 33-0).

Word on the street, however, is that once Brits learn the rules of the game, many are able to be converted. It’s the fastest growing spectator sport on Sky Sports (the channel which carries the NFL in England). And it probably helps that they can legally bet on games in the UK. That makes things a bit more interesting…

And a Few Reasons It Might Not.

1- Fan interest is growing in the UK, but American football is still nowhere near as popular as other major sports like soccer or rugby.

2- Despite selling out games in London, the NFL actually loses money on them. Producing a game there is spectacularly expensive, and they don’t yet have the broadcast rights, sponsorship, and ticket sales to make up for it.

3- The logistical nightmare of the whole thing. Like time zones. The time difference between London and the East Coast is five hours, making it tough for Americans across the country to watch a game unless they play every one after five… unless you feel like getting up early to watch your team. And the flights. Having London in your conference means your team would be flying there at least once a year. Better get over that jetlag quick, boys!

4- Compared to the other football (soccer), there’s just not enough action. Watch a soccer game and you’ll get zero commercials. Watch an NFL game and you’ll be inundated by images of beers, chips, and pizza for longer than you see the teams playing… or at least it feels like it. The Wall Street Journal said that there’s only about 11 minutes of action per three-hour NFL game. Converting those other football fans in Europe is going to be a challenge. But hey, they do end up with a 0-0 score a lot of the time anyway, so how much action are they really getting now?

5- They might need a name change. The NFL versus the most popular sport in the world anywhere else? Yeah, it’s always gonna be called “American Football” in literally every other country. Not super inclusive, guys…

What do you think? Can the NFL make it in London?