Rumors abound regarding one of the league’s teams – let’s call them “the Shaguars” – relocating to London. According to Gil Brandt from Sirius XM NFL Radio, the NFL is focused on moving whatever team it may be, the right way, with as much support and re$ource$ as possible, before continuing to try to expand the Europe market. But I don’t think the plan will work, as heavily resourced as it may be or as much attention as it gets from the NFL.
For the European market to develop the way Goodell wants it to, the NFL can’t just step into the market, however boldly, with just one team… they need to establish a full division on the continent. A key aspect of this proposal comes from the health-related disadvantages at play.
Every week throughout the season, we watch as players are injured, we monitor their progress through weekly injury reports, we listen for clues as to their health, and we make predictions based on their availability. When teams travel for away games, the players lose valuable time they could have had in the training room and they experience the tiring effects of travel (fatigue, swelling of tissue, lower oxygen, etc.). The team also loses the advantage of being able to declare whether someone will play (“so-and-so didn’t travel with the team”). If only one team is moved to London, they must fly “across the pond” to play 8 away games. What if that team’s division has the AFC or NFC West in their lineup that year? Do they fly a day or two earlier than usual so they can acclimatize to the time zone? Do they start their workdays at 3pm to keep in sync?
Now, the schedulers would likely minimize the number of times the team takes that flight, but therein lies another disadvantage – it might not be feasible for the team to get home between back-to-back away games as they do now. Outside of their own facilities, players won’t have the equipment they’re familiar with, perhaps some of the trainers they’re familiar with (because they will be in London tending to players who stayed behind to heal), and, of course, the comfort of their families.
Establishing an entire division in Europe seems like a more reasonable approach simply from the perspective of players’ physical health. For argument’s sake, let’s say the NFC West were picked up and plopped in Europe (I’m not moving my Colts, nor am I moving Peyton Manning, thank you very much).
So we might have the Frankfurt 49ers, the Calais Cardinals (I can see Coach Arians in his red beret now), the Scotland Seahawks, and the Ramstein Rams (yes I realize I gave Germany 2 teams, and England none… but the alliteration makes me happy). Each team would have 8 home games, and their 3 away divisional games would be within short flight or train distance. That leaves only 5 games that would require travel to the US. Those could be scheduled as 2 or 3 groups of games, where those groups would be themselves in close proximity to one another.
So if the NFC Europe division had the AFC South on the schedule, the games could be scheduled such that the 49ers play their AFC South away opponents in subsequent weeks, perhaps followed by the Buccaneers (were they on the schedule). While the issue of facilities and trainers remains, the impact of travel is reduced, and players on those teams would be at less of a disadvantage.
Of course there are flaws in this proposal, too. Most players are in the league for 3-4 years, and many play for more than one team during that time. There is a strong disincentive for players to want to move to another continent, into a foreign culture, in which a foreign language may be spoken, for what is likely to be a short career. And there are hundreds of other elements to consider in such a big move – should the NFL pay for coach and player housing? How do visas work for professional athletes? Will health insurance work the same way? Can a player refuse to play in Europe?
What are your thoughts?
I live in Europe. One hour by train from London. And I truly love football. But the fact is that Goodell is insane to believe that a professionnal american football (let's talk about it the european way) team will attract people 17 games a year.
1) Football is an unknown. No amateur structure. Nothing on a free TV network to make it more visible. From my personnal experience, i don't know anybody who knows something about football. By extension, I never talk about it. So to speak, on a day to day basis, football doesn't exist in Europe.
2) Corollary of 1: people going to London to watch internationnal series are passionnate. And you need to be passionnate to go watch a game alone or with a friend/spouse if you're rich. I don't know about US games but internationnal series are a little expensive. Count a 1000 dollars to be comfortable with 2. London is an expensive city and not the most accessible one in Europe. So NFL football is for richest europeans. Is it good for promotion of a sport to make it only accessible to the elite? Maybe in the US but in Europe it will kill it.
3) London is not exactly an easy destination for a European. If to promote soccer I reloacte a soccer club in an imaginary Boston speaking and understanding only a bostonian english and using a bostonian dollar should i be considered as a wise businessman? Not even mentionning border controls and constant suspicion of police officers.
Before relocating an NFL team in Europe make it visible before mister Goodell. Make it known in his essence by promoting flag football for kids.
Actually a NFL team in Europe will just have as many success as defunct NFL Europe. At least, I'll can see a game each year.
First of all, I love that you wouldn't even hypothosize about moving the Colts or Peyton.
I'm sure in one of my MBA classes, the economic theory of "a business is either growing or it is dieing" was discussed. Alas, I am ashamed to say I must have slept through that lecture as I can not remember how viable this assertion actually is. Still, it does seem to be the premise the NFL is operating from.
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world because it is actually played all over the world. Football remains uniquely American. And I wonder if that is part of the reason that Football is so popular, it remains exclusively ours. Basketball, baseball and hockey are also played all over the world. Football is really only played at any level here. (Sorry Canada.) Does the NFL expect if the London Fish 'N Chips becomes a reality, that kids all over Great Britian will suddenly start donning helmets and "Liverpool Friday Night Lights" will become the BBC's next great production?
By the way, LA didn't get a team while I was briefly distracted by Lefty falling short at the US Open again?
(But if given a choice between an 18 game schedule and a European Team, I say I'll lift a pint to you and welcome aboard.)
I agree, Laura, that for a European franchise to have any chance of success it must be part of a European Division. But there's another big issue that often gets discussed this side of the Atlantic, which is one of fan loyalty. Wembley Stadium has been filling seats every year because the one or two games attract neutral supporters (I have tickets for both games in 2013, even though the Colts aren't playing) but to fill the stadium eight times over will be difficult, even for teams like the Dolphins or 49ers who are popular in England. To generate loyalty for a team like the Jaguars or the Cardinals will be a huge task.
I think the two huge problems would be the travel and the fact that most players will have a strong preference to play in the USA. They'll do it if that's what they have to do to play pro football, but I'd expect European teams to be at a major competitive disadvantage with any sort of free agency.
Eventually I think we'll see something like the Canadian Football League in Europe. There will be plenty of Americans willing to live in Europe in order to play professional football. Usually after they give up on their NFL dreams. I believe that sort of arrangement is common in basketball and hockey - lots of 2nd tier American players go over there while some of the top Europeans come here.