As the NFL expands its annual slate of London-based games from two to three, the obvious question lingers regarding the league’s long-term plans.
Will the NFL place a team in London on a full-time basis?
“That is not our objective,” Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters on Tuesday, at the quarterly ownership meetings. “Our objective is to continue the growth of our game internationally. What we are so pleased about is that our game continues to grow and fans want more, television broadcasters want more and sponsors want more. We are responding to that interest in the game because fans want to see it. This is just another step down that path. We are making sure we can bring more football to more people. The UK fans have been terrific. Seeing over 500,000 people the day before the game at a rally is really extraordinary. It is a signal that there is real interest in our game internationally. If it ultimately gets to that point it is a different issue. We have a lot of steps to go before we are at that position.”
So while it’s not a goal, it’s a possibility.
“[Y]ou could view it as a potential home city but a lot would have to happen before that could take place,” Goodell said.
That message conflicts with the stated wishes of Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who said last year that it’s time for London to have its own franchise.
Regardless of whether it happens sooner or later, placing a team in London on a full-time basis would raise serious logistical issues. From travel to taxes to the salary cap to exchange rates to the inability to play prime-time games to the hosting of playoff games to the usual midweek tire-kicking on available free agents to the resistance of players to play for an internationally-based franchise, a team in London would be at a distinct competitive disadvantage. Efforts to offset that disadvantage would encounter obvious criticism from other teams that think the balance is being pushed too far in favor of the London franchise.
Still, it’s in the league’s best interests to dangle the carrot of a full-time team, and perhaps even a Super Bowl, in London because the mere possibility of such developments can help drive interest and build an overseas audience by sparking intrigue and fascination.
In our view, the most the NFL ever would do is have one team split its schedule between London and a U.S. city. We thought that the Jaguars would be a candidate for such an arrangement. However, as Peter King of TheMMQB.com reported last month on NBC’s Football Night in America, a two-game West Coast trip has caused the Jaguars to cool for now on playing more than one game per year in London.
Maybe no team would want to play four games, or even more than one game, per year in London. Maybe, in the end, London eventually will get the equivalent of a variety pack of miniature cereal boxes, giving them a full slate of eight games involving half the league’s teams, each and every year.