The possibility of moving a team to London raises plenty of potential problems. Free agents won’t want to go there. High first-round draft picks may decide to pull an Elway/Eli and force a trade.
Travel time, extended road trips, exchange rates, tax rates, language barriers. The exercise could quickly become more trouble than it’s worth.
There’s another important in-season dynamic that someone smarter than me (that doesn’t really narrow it down very much) mentioned today during an off-the-record chat about the London logistics.
Every week, many teams bring in multiple players for tryouts. These “Gong Show” sessions are used to fill immediate needs, and to keep a current database of information in the event a need arises in the future.
For example, if the punter tears an ACL on Sunday, eight or nine punters will show up on Tuesday. Likewise, if the third-down back has a fumbling problem, other potential third-down backs will be brought to town.
Sometimes, the tryouts are done to simply send a message to the guy(s) who play the position at which the team is taking a closer look. Or there’s a strategic element; Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman has said that, in the weeks before facing a left-footed punter, the Vikings would bring a left-footed punter to town for a tryout, to help the punt returners get used to the different spin of the ball.
For a team headquartered in London, good luck getting a bunch of street free agents to England on a moment’s notice. If any of them have invitations to try out for a team in the U.S. that same day, chances are they’ll take their chances with the domestic opportunity instead.
The easy solution would be to have the players try out at the practice facility the London team would use when embarking on a three-or-four-week road trip to America. But that means the team would have to keep front-office personnel in the U.S. location, away from the London headquarters.
And if the London team is preparing for a home game, it means that the coaching staff won’t have a chance to personally eyeball the prospects.
At some point, the various logistical challenges associated with having a full-time team in London will create a significant strategic disadvantage for the team based there. To balance things out, the London team would need to get special treatment from the league — and if/when the London team becomes successful, other teams and their fans would argue that the London team is getting too much special treatment.
Thus, while it makes plenty of sense for the NFL to expand the international presence of the sport, moving a team to London could be a mistake that would disrupt the league’s current parity and potentially undermine the game’s overall integrity.
There’s a chance it would work out. But the chance that it wouldn’t could be big enough to compel the NFL another way to market the game to people in other countries.