Commissioner Roger Goodell finally has said he wants the NFL to put a team in London. But the NFL still isn’t unanimous about whether it’s a good idea.
According to HJ Mai of SportsBusiness Global, 49ers co-chair John York acknowledged that placing an NFL team in London would be “sort of a shot in the dark.”
“We don’t know that there’s enough support for a team playing eight regular season games and two preseason games in London,” York said. “But we do know that we can play two and sell them out very quickly and have a lot of fan interest and growing interest.”
York pointed out that, in the six years since the NFL has begun playing regular-season games in London, the concentration of fans attending the games has flipped from predominantly outside London to predominantly inside the London area, and that 40 percent of the fans attending either of the two London NFL games played this season attended both.
The league realizes that one key to expanding the influence of American football will be to encourage more media awareness. Though the NFL can do little to alter the fact that the major newspapers are still largely ignoring the phenomenon, NFL games have returned to free TV in London this season, after several years of being broadcast by pay channels only.
“Free-to-air TV will raise the awareness of the NFL and increase fan avidity probably more than anything else,” York said. “This year for me, even though I’m over there every year, I’ve seen more interest in terms of sponsorship in the game and discussing how companies can be more involved in the NFL in London, and consumer products with jerseys and everything, the paraphernalia that people buy has increased tremendously.”
Still, the timeline for a full-time franchise isn’t clear, and it will depend on balancing the total NFL investment with the anticipated increase in fan interest.
It also entails working out the various logistical issues that go along with relocating a team to another country, a dilemma that ultimately could be solved by simply staging eight games per year in England featuring different teams in every contest.
The best thing about not sending a team to London could be that exporting what amounts to a full slate of eight regular-season games would allow the NFL to pull back if at any point it seems that the appetite for NFL football isn’t growing, or starts to shrink.