Want conclusive proof that the NFL has put down roots in London? The league has begun the process of squeezing financially the only place that has hosted NFL regular-season games there.
The NFL’s contract with Wembley Stadium runs through 2016. According to Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, the league has begun talking to other venues. Which of course puts pressure on Wembley to do a deal that the NFL likes, or risk losing the privilege of hosting the games.
Per Kaplan, one option consists of building a brand new stadium, in partnership with one of the teams that plays in the English Premier League.
The league has expanded in recent years from one annual London game to two and, starting this year, three. Despite ongoing talk of a team moving to London, the far better option would seem to be eventually playing eight games per year in England, giving the locals a full slate of games for the year, with different teams in each of the games and some of the teams (like the Jaguars) coming back every year.
Permanently placing a team in London would require the NFL to give the London team a separate set of rules regarding free agency and the salary cap. The schedule also would be screwy, with multi-week home stands and multi-week road trips to limit the travel demands on the London team.
The creation of a separate reality for the London-based team, which would at a minimum enjoy a higher salary cap, would invite criticism from fans of the American teams, if/when the London team becomes a contender. But if the London team doesn’t become a contender, the overall experiment would suffer and potentially fail.
That’s why the league will continue to talk about moving a team to London but never actually do it. Meanwhile, as the carrot of getting a team continues to drive short-term interest, the league will keep increasing the annual slate of games until enough are played there that the league can claim it is simulating the relocation of a team by giving England the ultimate American answer to strawberries and cream — a shrink-wrapped collection of eight small cereal boxes.