Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Well, son, I have some great news and
some not so great news for you.
You're going to the NFL, the big time, baby.
That's the great news.
You were drafted by the London Bangers, pack your bags. Oh, and you'll also
need to go and apply for a passport. And I'd buy a new watch and some
appliances that use that different wattage thing, too. Liking fish and chips
would also not be a bad thing, either.
Sound like the impossible?
Never say never when it comes to the NFL.
Let's not kid ourselves, because it only seems like a matter of time before
the league makes it official and plants a team on the other side of the pond.
(By the way, I hate that "other side of the pond" line. It's an ocean and it's
really far, but I digress).
The NFL has been trying to make inroads into Europe for a long time. For two
decades (1991 to 2007), we had football along with futbol in Europe.
NFL Europe tried to serve as a minor league for players and a proving ground
on the continent for years, but in the end, it didn't work out.
The NFL, which funded most of the league, finally gave it up in 2007 in order
to try a new strategy: bringing NFL teams over once a year to play a regular-
season game in London. They'll do it again in October when the New England
Patriots take on the St. Louis Rams.
(Quick, before we go any further, it's time for a little trivia question good
for extra credit. Name the last champion of NFL Europe. If you knew it was the
Hamburg (Germany) Sea Devils, you get 10 points and you can use those points
to get a new hobby).
Starting next year, the Jacksonville Jaguars will play one regular-season game
a year through 2016 at London's Wembley Stadium. I'm not sure that is good or
bad for the Jags. It's one less game where they won't have to worry about
ticket sales, but it also shortchanges their fans.
Television ratings for these regular-season affairs have increased year by
year and American football is now played in 64 countries, though it always
seems like more of a novelty than anything else.
What would happen if the NFL put a team in London permanently? A team that
played eight home games and eight road games that were really far away. (It's
going to happen eventually).
Would fans show up for eight games? Maybe they would if the team was good. But
what if the team stunk? Would anybody show up for a 1-6 team?
In NFL Europe's final season in 2007, average attendance for the then six-team
league (five of which were based in Germany and the other in the Netherlands)
was just under 20,000. That's called not good.
The all-powerful NFL can spin it any way possible, but on the surface, this
just seems like a bad idea.
As mentioned, just think of the travel for the London franchise. They'd likely
be put in the NFC East or AFC East, so games in Miami and Dallas would be the
norm. Then it's back to England for a couple of days and then off to another
far-flung locale when the schedule says two straight road games.
And what of the players and what the travel would do to them? And what about
trying to sign free agents?
"Hey, star receiver, do you want to play in Chicago, 10 miles from your
hometown or do you want to play in London for the Bangers?"
"Uh, let me think. I'll pick Chicago." Thought so.
A London-based or any European-based NFL team would need homegrown players --
lots of homegrown players -- to build interest. And not just kickers and
The problem is, those countries produce soccer players first, second and
third. And then basketball players. Then tennis players. You get the point.
It's fine when the NFL circus comes to town once a year. It's an event. People
will show up to watch. Bring the circus to town too many times, however, and
the big top will have a lot of empty seats.
Drew Markol has been a sportswriter and columnist for several
Philadelphia-area newspapers for over 25 years.
The Sports Network