The issue of the NFL in London, England has been on the table for decades with preseason games being played there in the past and now one regular season game each year. Now it appears that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is looking to get an NFL franchise in London. But it wouldn’t be a new franchise, rather Goodell is aiming to move a franchise located in the United States to London.
The NFL may be the top sports league in the U.S., but that doesn’t carry much weight when it comes to American football’s popularity internationally. Soccer is without a doubt the number one sport on the planet with attendance and viewership numbers for their biggest games trouncing the NFL’s numbers, especially in television viewership.
The problem the NFL has with any kind of international expansion is that football is a sport associated with America and nowhere else. When a sport is only associated with one country or a small group of countries, it isn’t seen as a top-level sport elsewhere because people either don’t play the game there or they are apathetic toward the sport because it isn’t commonly associated with their country.
Think about hockey’s problem with popularity in the U.S. For decades hockey has been trying to reach the popularity levels of baseball, basketball and football in this country. One of the biggest problems hockey has had to deal with: being associated with Canada and several other countries, none of them America.
Goodell may cite football’s growing popularity internationally as reason for making a real attempt at moving a franchise to London, but it just doesn’t seem like enough of a reason to make such a move. The game and the NFL may be popular in England, but you have to look at why it is becoming popular: games can only be seen on T.V. and there’s only one live game a year. Really think about those two things for a moment.
When it comes to football, America is showing the rest of the world its sport and giving England a little taste of it live. In the U.S., international friendly soccer matches as well as matches involving the best and most well known international teams tend to draw well these days. That’s because international soccer fans in America know it will be their only shot to see a game live involving these teams for a good amount of time. It’s the same in England with the NFL: they will go see the one game each season because it’s a rare event. But sixteen games a year with a team that is more than likely going to be terrible starting out? I’m doubting that will catch on.
Along those lines, another problem an NFL franchise in England is going to face is relying solely on the fanbase of England to attend the franchise’s home games. How many people do you know that would travel to England only for a football game? And that goes both ways because it’s hard to imagine British fans going to the U.S. in masses only for an American football game.
The endgame to all of this seems to be a Super Bowl in London. Years ago Goodell expressed his desire to make this happen. It just doesn’t seem right to even think about a Super Bowl taking place anywhere outside of the U.S. That isn’t meant as a xenophobic comment in any way, but even fans of American football around the globe hopefully can imagine the awkwardness of a Super Bowl outside of the U.S. This also makes little sense because there is no country that can make the Super Bowl into the spectacle it is today other than the U.S. Other countries have their major sporting events and make them into glowing spectacles, and the Super Bowl is America’s.
All in all, an international expansion for the NFL should be more about getting other countries playing the game instead of moving into other countries. The strategy of promoting the game and the best that play it has worked for the NBA‘s image around the globe over the last two decades or so.
If I could give any advice to Goodell on the topic of international expansion, it would be this: continue promoting the positive advances of the game (i.e. safety), continue promoting the game itself, continue promoting the best players in the game, but keep the teams that compete in the NFL inside the U.S. If things are going so well for the sport internationally, why rock the boat?
Filed under: NFL