London wants the NFL, but there are good reasons why the feeling may not be mutual

Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer (Best. Title. Ever.) George Osborne has promised to do “anything the government can do” to get an NFL team for London, which means of course that everybody is talking about when the NFL will put a team in London now. So, mission accomplished, mister chancellor of the exchequer!

The answer to “When will the NFL put a team in London?” meanwhile, is “Don’t hold your breath,” as Travis Waldron points out over at ThinkProgress:

Given existing concerns around moving a team to Europe, it is also possible — and probably more likely — that London has become the NFL’s next Los Angeles, a city used as a threat to hang over the heads of cities that it and its teams think need new stadiums…

There are myriad logistical issues standing as hurdles to such a move, including how to work bye weeks and address travel and competitive concerns. Where the team would play is also an unanswered question: while Wembley Stadium has made an attractive host thus far, it’s unclear whether a full NFL slate would fit into its schedule or its size, and it’s also less than certain that Premier League soccer club West Ham United would want to share the Olympic Stadium, a more suitably-sized venue that has been floated as a possibility.

But London is really huge, right? Wouldn’t any team jump at the chance to move there, assuming they got a stadium to play in and a vacuum train to get them there?

Possibly not, because of the strange finances of the NFL. Having high ticket demand is all well and good, but given that you only need to sell maybe 70,000 tickets eight times a year, a city the size of London is really overkill when it comes to creating enough ticket demand. Besides, in the NFL the real moneymaker is national TV revenue, and you can get a slice of that just by suiting up to have your heads bashed in. London, England, London, Ontario, London, Ohio — after factoring in TV money and revenue sharing, the amount of money you’ll make by operating a team there isn’t nearly as dramatically different as it would be in any other pro sport.

But wait a minute — wouldn’t putting a team in the UK be a terrific marketing opportunity for the NFL, and possibly lead to a lucrative new TV contract in Britain? Maybe so, but that’s for the NFL, not an individual team owner. If the league agreed to give a team relocating to London the lion’s share of UK TV money, perhaps, or otherwise compensated them for being the league’s European loss leader, then this might be able to work. But that would require complicated negotiations among all the teams to decide what’s fair, and even then you have to find an owner who’d rather be a guinea pig in London than to sit back in whatever U.S. burg they’re in and collect Fox checks. It could happen eventually, but probably not tomorrow.

London as a bogeyman for NFL move threats, though? That’s a no-brainer. Besides, as I told Waldron:

“The great thing about move threats like this is that they can work both ways,” said Neil deMause, who follows stadium development news at his site, FieldofSchemes.com (and has co-written a book by the same name). “If talking up London as a potential NFL site works to get interest from an existing owner or an expansion owner, then great. Suddenly you’ve got interest, and a few years down the road, if it works out, then you can move ahead with it.

“If it doesn’t, then it’s still great, because you’ve talked about London so much that other teams can use it as a threat. It’s exactly how it’s worked with Los Angeles.”


9 comments on “London wants the NFL, but there are good reasons why the feeling may not be mutual

  1. 1) London is absurd, except as a threat, and if anyone gives it 10 seconds of thought, it’s even an absurd threat. You’d have to schedule every visiting team to have a bye week following their London trip; that’s easy enough when there’s 2 or 3 games there a year, but is unfeasible if you’re talking about a team traveling around the world in week 15 then getting a week off in week 16 leading to them being rested the last week of the season. To say nothing of a London team that would have to either make several trips back and forth without extra byes.

    2) I’m always baffled that people act as though LA has been some super successful boogeyman for the last 20 years. There’s always numbers for how many new or renovated stadiums there have been since LA had a team, as though the absence of a team there has caused the explosion of publicly funded stadiums. Of all the new ones built, the only place that I’d say actually, successfully used LA as a threat and ended up with something to show for it was the Vikings, and even then, they basically got a legislature that was already eager to give them half a billion dollars to throw in a couple more hundred million.

  2. Joe,

    1. London should be classified as a longshot, but absurd may be a bit too strong of a word. Also, wouldn’t it make more sense to give the visiting team a bye week BEFORE they head to London? Isn’t jet lag worse when you head East (to London?)

    2. The LA (or London) threat is always available for teams to ask for public money for either a new stadium or for renovations to an existing stadium. Plenty of renovations have taken place since LA lost its NFL clubs.

  3. Eh, most of the renovations (and new stadiums, for that matter) haven’t included LA threats, and if they have, it’s a pretty good jump to say that one or two utterances of LA were any kind of factor. The Superdome, for instance – Benson was making a lot of noise about San Antonio, LA, even Albuquerque for crying out loud BEFORE Katrina, then tried to go to SA afterward before being shut down by the league. Within months, they were comfortable they had the corporate support, an have had an easy time getting cash out of the state ever since. The next team to get a renovation or a new stadium paid for by rattling the LA saber will be the first. (Unless you want to count Minnesota shaking out a little more at the end of their process.)

  4. Minnesota’s stadium push was about to collapse until Goodell came to town and starting making threats about moving the Vikings. The Dolphins got renovation money in part with the threat of L.A. hanging.

    No, team owners haven’t said “We’ll move to L.A. if you don’t build us a stadium,” but then, team owners almost never say “We’ll move if you don’t give us what we want,” because it makes everyone mad at them. Far better to let Goodell, or the mayor, or Mike Florio make the threat for you.

  5. Please there’s always talk whenever a west coast team plays in the east coast now they want them to go another 5 hours east? Come on.

    Plus I never understood why when a west coast team plays in the east they never play at 4 PM EST they always put them on at 1. That y me is messed up and not fair for the west coast team.

  6. Don’t see NFL rules football making anywhere rugby played. Don’t see baseball in cricket countries or cricket in baseball countries.

  7. NJ BeachBumm: Based on your logic, when East Coast NFL teams play on the west coast, the games should be played at 10am Pacific time to accommodate the Eastern team. Makes sense to me!

    As for Pacific Time Zone teams having to go to London, giving them a bye week the week BEFORE they go to London might help them adjust to the new time zone. Jet lag sucks when you go east – going west isn’t so bad.

  8. When I take my team to London I make sure to volunteer to be the home squad. Those peons back in flyover land who are building my crystal football palace can make do with 7 games a year.

    As for using London as a threat, well, for my money L.A. is still the hardest working shovel-ready town in here-we-come-dom! Call 1-800-Stadium-Cash, taxpayers, and start giving today before we pack your team off to the city of angels.

  9. Logistics aside (and, really, the logistics of this are laughably unworkable), the British don’t have our predilection for forking over public money for stadiums and propping up sports clubs. I don’t see how the NFL’s business model will work there.

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