Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Why London will never get an NFL team.

The new NFL season is upon us! All rejoice!

Half the managers who didn’t make the play offs last season have been fired, many players have moved teams in search of pastures greener and the NFL, in all its greatness, continues its quest to expand the sport (=get their mits on more of your money). Since there is no use in sticking NFL teams in Bismarck  or Anchorage, and Canadians prefer watching hockey to the noble sport of American football, the NFL is considering the idea of setting up a franchise in, or moving one to, London. NFL Big Cheese Roger Gooddell even mentioned it in his most recent Superbowl speech:

I hate to bring this to the man, but much as people in Britain (and Ireland) love filling their free time with watching any sort of ball game (and chugging down pints of warm beer, as people in America continue to assume) this is never going to work. Here’s why:

1. It will be a logistical nightmare.
Look at this map of the NFL teams:

And then look at this map of the US with London included:

You see, even from the East Coast, London is an 8 hour flight.
And while you can retort by saying “Ha! Boston to San Diego is a 6 hour flight too!” there are some important differences.

First, the time difference is 5 hours instead of 3. That may look insignificant, but it’s not. 3 hours is the difference between breakfast and lunch, 5 hours is the difference between late breakfast and dinner.

Second, and more important, the time difference is East-bound, which makes it much harder to deal with than when flying west because is is easier for your body to delay your body clock than to advance it.

Those who have ever crossed an ocean in either direction, will tell you that the time difference will really start to mess with you when it goes over 3 or 4 hours.
I have travelled from Ireland to the USA numerous times and, at most, I felt a little tired towards the end of the first day, even when going straight to the West coast. I have also travelled Eastwards from the USA back to Europe and in that direction, I can tell you from experience, jet lag is much worse.  All the teams in the US will be travelling East when going to London.

Keep in mind that, on top of that, all you and I have to do is sit on the beach and drink beer.
NFL players have to deliver a top athletic performance.
But there's more to it than just the awkward location..

2. The circus is coming to town
As mr. Gooddell mentioned in  his speech up there, ‘London is a bit further down the road towards an NFL Franchise’. He may seem to be right there, because London sells out all their NFL games (3 this year! Woohoo!!) but he forgets one thing: This is a case of the circus coming to town. Yes, all the games so far have sold out.
But the reason for that is that it sold out because there are only 2 or 3 games per year. In 2012, the Notre Dame fighting Irish played one of their ‘home’ games here in Dublin. It sold out our national rugby stadium in 3 minutes. This year, Penn State will be playing UCF in Croke Park, the home of our national pride: the GAA. Yes, it will probably sell out too, eventually, but that’s mainly because of the occasion. When you can watch an NFL game 10 times a year, a lot of people will lose the drive to get tickets for every one of them.
You see, much as we love NFL over here, after a while we’ll get back to watching other things because...

3. NFL will always be a fringe sport
The NFL is engrained in American life, just about as much as rugby and football (What people in America call soccer) are over here. Rugby is, and always will be, a fringe sport in the USA, played only by expats or Anglophiles. NFL is the same over here. No matter how great a game it is, it is something relatively new to us and it will always rank behind football and rugby and even cricket. Sure, the 3 NFL games at Wembley have all sold out, and they will again next season, but when the games are over, the fans will go back to watching rugby or football or whatever else they enjoy watching. Like, for example, the English cheese rolling festival: 

And most people will forget about NFL until next year. But even if you can get a sizeable following to focus mainly on NFL, then you encounter another problem...

4.  Team loyalty works different in Europe than it does in America.
I’m not going to poke fun at the American habbit of moving teams hundreds or thousands of miles just because the owner thinks he can make more money elsewhere, thereby abandoning a legion of fans that are not at all amused. It is known that this is not uncommon in the USA, but that’s simply not how it works in Europe. I could write 3 more pages full of examples of fans threatening owners for changing the team jerseys:

Or of fans thrashing their own neighbourhood over a loss in an insignificant cup competition:

or this rather amusing story of supporters barricading the roads into and out of the stadium to lock the owner in, because they did not agree with his decision to sack the manager:

Don't fuck with the fans in the North of England

The bottom line is, fans here stick with their teams. And if the owner doesn’t listen.. well, then we will set fire to your office, or your car, or we’ll drop by your house and smash the windows. In the case of the NFL, things might not get so dramatic, but the thing is, parachuting a new team into town is not going to change people’s current loyalties. Look at this list:

You see, I’m a lifelong Raiders fan (Stop laughing). And I always will be a Raiders fan (HEY! I said stop laughing) no matter what happens. You can start a new NFL franchise in London, but that won’t make me stop following the Raiders and throw my weight behind the London team.

Hell, I live literally 30 yards away from the GAA stadium I mentioned earlier in the story, and even if they started a new team there, I still would not change my team loyalty. I would still be a Raiders man.
But, just for a moment now, let’s all assume that they do start a new franchise in London. And let’s just assume that everybody with an interest in NFL starts following them. And that they are all going to buy season tickets. Then still, we only need to look back by about 20 years to see why it is destined to fail because...

5. They’ve tried it before!
Do you remember NFL Europe? No you don’t because there wasn’t much to remember it for. In short, you can click here:

What it came down to is that the NFL (in America) set up a feeder league for the ‘Real’ NFL so that players who weren’t ready for the Big Time could get some game time under their belts. This World League of American Football (WLAF) first had a number of American teams, supplemented with 3 European teams and 1 Canadian team.
After 2 seasons and a lot of disappointment, the league in this form ceased to exist and the NFL Launched NFL Europe, with teams in Edinburgh, London, Amsterdam, Barcelona and a number of other cities across Europe. After another couple of less-than-exciting seasons, and disappointing attendance figures, NFL Europe started to change the set up for several teams.
The Edinburgh team started playing games in Glasgow too, to appeal to a wider crowd even though it is very well documented that the good people of Glasgow and Edinburgh don’t exactly like each other

Which is pointed out quite accurately here

Meanwhile, the London team started playing games in Bristol and Birmingham, partly again to have a bigger catchment area, but also because (and I swear I am not making this up) the playing field in White Hart Lane, their chosen home stadium, was only 93 yards long. This might not seem much of an issue to the outsider, until you realise that the main purpose of the game is gaining territory.
To put it simple, without a 100 yard pitch (plus and endzone at each end) you simply can’t play the game.
The other teams didn’t exactly prosper either with the exception, perhaps surprisingly, of the teams in Germany. As a result, within a couple of years, The London Monarchs moved to Berlin, the Barcelona Dragons moved to Cologne and the Scottish Claymores moved to Hamburg.

As you will have noticed by now, all but one of the teams had moved to Germany. The only team not relocated to Germany by then were the Amsterdam Admirals and even they, despite winning the World Bowl the previous season, were struggling.

I have been to a couple of Admirals games myself when I was living in Holland and there is no fun in sitting in a 52.000 seater stadium when there are only 5.000 people present. Even the Admirals then proposed to either move to Germany or fold altogether, and were kept alive for another season by the NFL because they couldn’t really sell the idea of their World Bowl Champions shutting down.
Eventually, the NFL threw in the towel because nobody really cared about NFL Europe.

And that, mr. Gooddell, is what you should take away from this: You see, much as we love the NFL over here, we love football (soccer) and rugby and cricket and darts even more. We always have and we always will. It is in our blood, just like baseball and American Football are in the USA.
And just like rugby and cricket will always be fringe sports in the USA, so will NFL be a fringe sport over here.

But please do keep organising games here, because I missed out on tickets for this season’s games. Thank you!


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