If you are a fan of the show Family Guy, here’s a bit of trivia for you. What was the name of the team Peter Griffin was traded to after he blew his shot with the New England Patriots. The answer: The London Sillinannies.
Why does that matter?
Because despite what Kommissar Roger Goodell wants you to believe, the Sillinannies are as close to a home National Football League as London is going to get.
The NFL has been having this European dream for two decades now. At first, there was a developmental league intended to grow the interest in American football in Europe. The World League of American Football (WLAF) provided a quality product; after all it existed in various incarnations off and on from 1990 to 2007. Known not so affectionately in the U.S. as the “We Laugh,: the WLAF morphed into the World League, and finally NFL Europe before ceasing operations. Whjle it did provide a place for players to develop, it never formed the popular base for American football as intended.
Then came Step Two…having pre-season games in foreign locales. Even Americans don’t give a shit about pre-season football, so I never understood why anybody thought Europeans would.
That brings us to last Sunday; this past week’s Patriots-Rams game being the latest representation of Step Three; having regular season games in London with the hopes this will spark enough interest in the game to eventually move a franchise there.
Yeah, that’s not going to happen.
Kommissar Goodell and certain owners have this wet dream that the NFL can expand into foreign markets like many other leagues have done, and what is driving this dream is the fact the NFL has saturated the American market. In short, they simply don’t have anywhere else to grow. They are looking at the English Premier League (EPL) as a model. If you aren’t familiar with the EPL, that’s likely because a) you are an American, b) don’t like soccer, or c) all of the above.
The EPL is the world’s most popular professional sports league. It has television contracts in too many countries to count; the NBC Sports Network just inked a deal to secure the EPL broadcast rights broadcast right in the U.S. beginning in 2013. Several teams in the EPL have American ownership (for example, LeBron James is a part-owner of Liverpool), and Manchester United was the first professional sports franchise to sell for over $1 billion U.S. dollars.
Having said that, there’s a few major flaws in mirroring the EPL’s model.
The EPL’s popularity is all about television, not location. Right now, EPL matches make Saturday morning coffee viewing at my house, because a 1 p.m. match in England means 8 a.m. in the Eastern U.S. time zone. This is why despite the fact MLS’s Philadelphia Union routinely host European clubs, none of those leagues are in a big hurry to put a franchise in Philadelphia.
2) Regional Rivalries
This is a trait the EPL and the NFL share. In England they call them “Derbys,” where teams from the same cities cherish beating each other. Since the NFL rarely has franchises in the same city, the rivalries become a bit more regional, but the concept is the same. For every Liverpool vs. Everton, Chelsea vs. Fulham, or Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur, there is a Packers vs. Bears, Giants vs. Eagles, and Patriots vs. Jets. Granted, England is geographically a much smaller country than the U.S., but the long-standing team rivalries are all based on location.
If the NFL moved a franchise to London, who would it’s main rival be? The NFL destroyed one of it’s great rivalries when the Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis, thus ending the challenge of having the NFC California bragging rights with the San Francisco 49ers. St. Louis and San Francisco are only 2,000 miles and two time zones apart. London’s nearest possible rival would be New England, which is 3,200 miles (and more importantly since both are further north) they are five time zones apart.
Since we’ve already mentioned this twice, why make a separate item out of the biggest issue involved here?
Because of the time zone difference, there will be no such thing as a home game in London broadcast in prime time in the Eastern U.S. time zone unless they start at 1:00 a.m. local time. Right off the bat, that means no Thursday, Sunday, or Monday night games. Even the late games on Sunday afternoon are going to cause a problem; a 4:25 p.m. Eastern time kick-off means 9:25 p.m. in London. This makes the television scheduling a nightmare, unless the networks are willing to start carrying an earlier game on Sundays; and by earlier we mean 6 a.m. in California.
4) Jet Lag
Everybody already loves to make a big deal out of the disadvantage faced by teams traveling between the American coasts, which are separated by three thousand miles and three time zones. Teams on the west coast traveling to London would face a six thousand mile, eight time zone trek, and vice-versa. Even the closest clubs would face a five time zone difference after an eight-hour plane ride.
5) There a Reason for the Difference Between What They Call Football and What We Call It
Being from a country that has cable channels that do nothing but cackle about the NFL 24 hours a day, Americans have no concept that the rest of the world finds American football pedantic and boring, particularly the British.
This is a country where what we call soccer is the undisputed king. Soccer is a game which is the exact opposite of American football, and it is those differences which make it so popular in England. The Brits like a game that isn’t riddled with pauses, unless it involves gentlemanly drinking like old-school cricket did. American football has more pauses than action, and dramatic changes in an NFL game almost always take minutes, where in soccer they almost always only take seconds.
If that weren’t enough, if the Brits want a physical game, they will prefer rugby over anything America has to offer. Not only does rugby give you the chance for bone-shattering violence, it doesn’t have the slow-paced, intermittent action of American football. While we seem to love time-outs, instant replay review, and a clock that stops for pretty much any reason one can think of, the Brits want a clock that doesn’t stop, a game that will just add extra time at the end rather than stopping the clock also consider the pads and helmets to be the mark of the consummate pussy.
6) Competition For The Sports Dollar/Pound/Euro
The idea is that you can fill a football stadium in London on ten fall afternoons with 80,000 fans. The problem is that an NFL team in London is going to be competing with a laundry list of soccer clubs. There’s literally one in every neighborhood, and while there are only nine or so in the top leagues, together they all add up to nearly a half-million stadium seats that won’t be sending money toward a football team.
English Premier League
- Queens Park Rangers
- Tottenham Hotspur
- West Ham United
Football League Championship
- Charlton Athletic
- Crystal Palace
Football League One
- Leyton Orient
- Football League Two
- AFC Wimbledon
- Dagenham & Redbridge
- A.F.C. Hornchurch
- Boreham Wood
- Hayes & Yeading United
- Sutton United
- Welling United
Isthmian League Premier Division
- Carshalton Athletic
- Cray Wanderers
- Enfield Town
- Hampton & Richmond Borough
- Harrow Borough
- Metropolitan Police
- Wingate and Finchley
Isthmian League Division One North
- Thamesmead Town
- Waltham Forest
Isthmian League Division One South
- Dulwich Hamlet
- Tooting & Mitcham United
- Southern Football League Division One Central
- A.F.C. Hayes
- North Greenford United
7) The Big Reason: Money
This is the big turd in the punch bowl nobody wants to talk about. Money isn’t the same from nation to nation. That creates some deal-killing problems.
The NFL is the only one of the “Big Four” sports leagues that didn’t venture into Canada. This means the NFL hasn’t experienced first-hand the financial obstacles involved in operating in multiple countries.
The first issue is that American players are going to be paid in U.S. dollars. So, right off the bat, you are going to run into conversion issues, not the least of which will hit be the NFL’s salary cap. Due to the cap, players in London would get paid the same amount as their counterparts in the U.S. Due to the exchange rate, their money would be worth less, right now $100 equals £62.23. In other words, something that costs £100 means spending $161. This means players being paid in London will make less money, and that’s before the confiscatory British tax laws get a hold of their paychecks.
Not only will that hamstring a London franchise when it comes to signing free agents, but they will be at a disadvantage financially. Any London team is going to be taking in gate money in British pounds, which brings us right back to the aforementioned conversion issues.
The bottom line is this. While some of the practical problems could be overcome, and the financial obstacles could be addressed, that would be a lot of work to bring a team to a city where it will fail anyway.
Didn’t anybody learn anything from the NHL?