Nick Kauzlarich explores the attraction and restrictions of American football in London.
On behalf of all Americans, I must begin by apologizing to Londoners out there for the truly diabolical National Football League (NFL) games you’ve had to witness at Wembley Stadium over the years. Take this year alone, for the three games in London the teams partaking in the ‘contests’ have a combined match record of just 16 wins and a depressing 27 losses – it’s kind of clear the big (and successful) teams have not yet been attracted across the pond.
However, I’m here to say that there is hope on the horizon for any and all of you American football fans in London. NFL recently signed a deal with Wembley Stadium to play at least two games there per year until 2020, and they have also inked a similar 10-year deal with Tottenham Hotspur for when their new stadium opens in 2018. With at least four games per season, the NFL will be able to test the waters for a potential franchise in London. I thought I’d test the waters around UCL.
NFL games in London have peaked the interest of UCL’s new American football club, known as the UCL Emperors. Club president Michael Foxall-Smith, a 5th year medical student, believes that the Emperors’ passion and drive demonstrates UCL students’ enthusiasm about London having an NFL team of its own.
“All of the players that joined the UCL club this year have been asking if we have any tickets to give out for the games…so yes I’d say that UCL students would support a London franchise. I’m definitely booking a block section for the games next year for our club.”
However, Foxall-Smith notes that the lack of British athletes in the NFL may make it difficult for the UK to get behind an NFL franchise.
“The NFL also (unofficially) requires you to have played two years of college ball in order to qualify as an eligible player. This means that the scope for getting British athletes into the teams would be quite small which is disappointing. I would quite like to be rooting for players whose nationality I can identify with.”
UCL Emperors’ player Charles Katz-Summercorn, a 2nd year student, also hopes the NFL establishes a team in London because it would make it simpler for UK fans to get heavily invested in American football.
“Most UK fans usually choose an NFL team to support based on where they have visited in America or whom their favourite player plays for, but this can be difficult when you are spoilt for choice. Having a UK team will make this decision of who to support much easier for fans who are new to the sport.”
Although the sellout crowds at Wembley may indicate otherwise, establishing a team in London would be quite risky for the NFL. First of all, one team (probably the not so successful Jacksonville Jaguars, sorry everyone) would likely have to relocate from the US, which wouldn’t go down well with the Jaguar fans abandoned back in Florida. Plus, even though in the US teams don’t hesitate to move from city to city (due to waning fan support, or lack of funding for a new stadium) it is not a usually done thing in the UK. Just imagine what would happen if Manchester United turned into “Brighton United”. So I’m not entirely confident Londoners would feel comfortable supporting their ‘local team’ that actually originated from across the Atlantic.
It would also be tough to convince most players to leave behind their family and friends in America to play for a team overseas. If a team in London struggles to sign players that are officially ‘on the market’, as those players might get homesick, then that team wouldn’t be able to progress in a competitive manner – both financially and sportingly. After all, it doesn’t seem likely that Londoners, or any Brits for that matter, would want to cheer on a struggling franchisee team that just gets spanked by American teams all year round. That’s no good for British morale.
Annoyingly, London is only getting a flavour of the astounding standard of the NFL; but hopefully, if future London games feature a selection of different teams and a variety of star athletes, NFL fans in London will have much to look forward to in the coming years. For the foreseeable future though, the most viable option seems to be London hosting four-to-eight games per season, with the Jacksonville Jaguars still playing at least one game here a year to maintain a stable presence.