Should London Get A Team Or A Super Bowl?
By TJ Hatter
As an NFL fan, you may have occasionally blanched at the fact that the NFL has played one regular season game in London since 2007 and this season is playing two. Next year they're playing three. Surely a team there makes no sense, you've thought. That's true on the surface, but a team makes no sense in Jacksonville, so let's not let pure logic dictate our daily lives. The fact of the matter is that the NFL has fans in the UK and is seeking to expand the brand within Great Britain. There are lots of potential problems with moving a team to London and while travel is the most talked about it is potentially the least important. It's not the 1970s folks, the way modern players fly is vastly superior to how you and I would fly when trying to go to London. I add parenthetically, for those who haven't taken the trip, flying to London is much more comfortable for the common man than a flight from NY to Nashville. Sure it's longer, but there is complementary food and booze, lots of movies and roomier seats. But I digress.
The biggest problem with having a team in London isn't travel, though the logistics are problematic. The real problem is the currency and tax difference between the US and the UK. The NFL salary cap complications alone in paying the players and building an organization are vast, and while Great Britain does sustain profitable enthusiasm for the product when it comes to town, it's unclear that the interest would be maintained through eight home games, meaning a potentially embarrassing relocation and retreat. These are all scenarios which the NFL should and does want to avoid.
But they still want to expand the brand to a market that is willing to buy.
On the surface, the smarter way to to do that would be to schedule a Super Bowl there, rather than move a team there, which I suspect is what the NFL has in mind in the near future. Perhaps having two games there this year was laying the ground work. Certainly having the Super Bowl this year in New Jersey in February was a warning shot that logic and southern teams do not have a monopoly on the big game. The NFL is playing a market-based game, not a strategy to appease consumers who will show up anyway. They're looking for expansion, and a London Super Bowl would certainly serve notice to that.
Now there are serious issues to discuss:
1) Attending The Super Bowl Isn't For The Common Fan
Setting aside the jingoistic feelings about the top American sporting event being played outside the US, which would likely appear on countless radio shows and blogs, an immediate reaction would be on the impact of a London Super Bowl on the average fan. The assumption behind that argument is that many may think that if their team finally made it, they'd do whatever they could to go see the game in person and that the game being abroad is a barrier to entry. The reality is very different. The reason is the Super Bowl price tag. The travel, hotel accommodations, game tickets, would likely set someone back somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000-10,000 per individual. Very few regular fans have that money just sitting around. Even those that have it in their rainy day fund are going to be hard pressed to open little Jamie's college fund for four days of fun which could end in disaster if their team gets beat. Regular fans are going to watch the game on TV with friends and eat a ton of food. That's part of the charm of the event, really. It's also a reaction to the economics: Attending events like these has become almost exclusively the domain of NFL corporate partners and the owners and their organizations themselves.
2) To Give London The Super Bowl Is To Not Give It To An NFL Owner
While many were confused by the decision to have the Super Bowl in New Jersey in an outdoor stadium in February, there was a reason for it: Rewarding two owners and their shiny new stadium. Most of the people attending the game would much rather be somewhere warm than sitting outside in New Jersey in February in a potential blizzard. Remember, these are corporate partners at the game, not the people of Green Bay. But the internal politics of the NFL demanded it. The simpler solution to ensure putting New Jersey in the rotation permanently would have to put a retractable roof on the stadium itself, but there we go, tripping on logic again. If the NFL gave a Super Bowl to London, as the league is currently constituted, they're denying one to their other owners. That's a tricky thing to sell without strong internal support from among the owners. Some support must already exist, as teams are heading off to London for meaningful regular season games as it stands now. But the Super Bowl is different and it's difficult to see where support for London would come without commissioner Roger Goodell doing some Lyndon Johnson-style vote wrangling. This is the real stumbling block for London, rather than any sentimental issues.
3) After You've Had A London Super Bowl, What's Next?
That's the big question. If holding perennial regular season games there is laying the framework for expanding the brand into the UK, then the penultimate move is a London Super Bowl. Does that move set up an NFL team in London? “Which comes first, the team or the Super Bowl?” is probably the question NFL executives are quietly debating right now. On the plus side, with Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham in the Premier League, a London NFL team would be the only one to unite London as a city and arguably as Great Britain as a whole in their rooting interest. Eight home games is the least challenging in terms of sustaining ticket sales in all of professional sports. Again, the currency and tax differences and, yes, the travel will all remain serious concerns. So too, is the time difference. London teams that play on either Sunday, Monday or Thursday Night Football would have, at the earliest, a midnight local start time. There could be a logistics problem, not only in putting fans in the stands but also keeping pubs open to watch the game. In many parts of the UK, there are mandatory closing times for pubs. For the Super Bowl, there are special permits that pubs can apply for in order to stay open throughout the game. Would the UK government be willing to permanently relax those laws at a time when there is considerable elite political pressure to take steps to curb alcohol use in the UK?
All of those questions need to be resolved between people wearing ties.
But London is calling, and the NFL is listening.