No Players = No Game

The owner of “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys, has spoken. He thinks it is very possible the National Football League could establish a team in the United Kingdom:

London is one of the few cities outside of the United States that would be a great city internationally for the NFL.”

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NFL International Series at Wembley Stadium

A lot of people seem to be against it, though. A recent survey found out of 200 fans from the UK, 44% do not want to see the league expand to Europe. Players also seem hesitant.

Andrew Whitworth, an offensive lineman for the Cincinnati Bengals, told the Cincinnati Enquirer he knows what he’d do:

I would hope that I was financially able to quit. That’s what I would hope, because if I was, my papers would be the first one in.”

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Andrew Whitworth

Whitworh is also the team’s representative for the NFL Players Association. He said he’s not alone:

I don’t see that a lot of guys would want to do that. I don’t see any players that would enjoy that. Sure, you may find a handful of guys that say, ‘Oh, hey, that’d be cool,’ but the rest of them wouldn’t.”

Ryan Clark, a safety for the Washington Redskins, agrees with Whitworh:

I’d retire. I’d definitely retire.”

You can’t blame the players. There’s the long distance factor and being away from their friends and loved ones, the challenge of playing in a new market, possibly moving a family to a new country, the food is different, the weather is unusual, and having to spend more time on a plane than practicing.

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Steve Smith

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith told ESPN he thinks the league only cares about money and not players’ safety. Running back Mike Tolbert said he would rather stay in the United States, also:

I would rather not, but if I had to, yeah. It’s just so far from home, my family, everything I know and have grown accustomed to. It’s a nice city. I played there my rookie year [2008], but I would rather not play for a team permanently over there.”

Baltimore Ravens cornerback Cary Williams said the NFL should focus on helping current franchises build their fan bases, like the Jacksonville Jaguars. The team could do that overseas, though — see this previous post.

Other players are looking at the bright side, like Phladelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce:

But that’s the one thing football doesn’t have, that global area. It’s one of the things that’s cool about soccer and the World Cup. You have that country camaraderie behind it, whereas America, it’s kind of our own deal right now. Anything that’s spreading the NFL to other countries, I think it’s a great idea.”

The NFL will need to find a way to make playing in London attractive if they want a successful international franchise. So far, they haven’t made a move.

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“Jacksonville Jaguars of London”

Maybe the National Football League and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan aren’t ready to fully commit to England.

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British Airways

Why not have the team split its schedule between Florida and London? The Green Bay Packers used to do it in Green Bay and Milwaukee, and it seems like the Buffalo Bills are headed that way with games in Buffalo and Toronto. The Jaguars already have two employees stationed in the United Kingdom, and they already send cheerleaders, athletes, and managers there in the offseason.

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Reggie Williams

Jaguars fans may be a little upset, but wouldn’t they rather have a bi-contentintal team than lose the team entirely? There are a lot of positive aspects. As Khan has said, it would be beneficial to attract international visitors to “The Bold New City of the South:”

Jacksonville is an undiscovered gem, with key resources for tourism and the beaches. It is highly influenced by its maritime business and London is a logical point along the way. We need to take this and market Jacksonville overseas.”

Khan also wants European companies to spend millions of dollars in “J-ville” to entice “Jaxons” to fly across the pond. As ESPN found, the team’s domestic sponsorship revenue rose 14% in 2013, but jumped to 29% when London sponsorship money was included. Even tight end Marcedes Lewis seems to agree:

“It’s just good for the Jaguar brand. “It’s exciting to go over there and put ourselves on the map worldwide. When I got drafted in 2006, there were some of my family members who didn’t even know who the Jaguars were.”

The bi-continental team would make traveling easier than having the team fully based there. The players could spend a few weeks in London and more time in the U.S., and avoid flying back and forth so much. It would also make broadcasting the competitions easier.

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EverBank Field

The games played in the NFL International Series lower ticket prices by at least 10%. If the team had more games overseas, ticket prices would continue to become more affordable. There’s also supply and demand — fewer games in the U.S. would mean more seats sold at EverBank Field. The program would also allow the league to see how many people are truly interested in attending regular games in London, outside the special events from the International Series.

You can’t forget the team’s fan base would grow throughout the process — that’s more merchandise being sold.

Forget being bi-coastal. Bi-contenential is the way to go if the NFL wants to see if it can fully succeed in Europe without a full commitment.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Time to Get a Passport

Thirteen teams have played at Wembley Stadium since the NFL International Series started in 2007. The New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have each played there twice. The Jacksonville Jaguars played their first game in London last fall, and they will continue to play one game a year there through 2016.

If the NFL establishes a team in Europe, more than likely it is going to be the Jaguars.

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It’s no secret that Commissioner Roger Goodell and Jaguars owner Shad Khan are working together to test the water and build a fan base. Khan clearly showed his intentions in a 2012 interview:

In the course of the next four years we’ll see if the fans are ready for more than one game. Time will tell.”

“We want the Jaguars to develop fans over here and the Jaguars to be seen as London’s team but my feelings and aspirations are to make it work in Jacksonville.”

Goodwell also told Sports Journalists Association lunch last October:

But we want to create success here. It depends on fan support continuing to grow. [If] at some point in time it will become obvious a team here could be successful then we have to figure out other issues. Like which team, or teams.”

Goodell and Khan are making it so obvious, even The Onion wrote a spoof news story about the NFL announcing the team would play 16 games in London — eight as the home team and eight as the away team. The website even said the players would wear limited edition uniforms with special colors and logo.

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Shad Khan, Jacksonville Jaguars owner

All joking aside, here are a few reasons Khan and the NFL may use to justify moving the organization to the United Kingdom for a fresh start:

  1. The team is one of the least popular in the league, but its popularity is growing outside the United States.
  2. Jacksonville has 837,000 residents; London has 8.3 million.
  3. The team hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2007.
  4. The team’s regular season record is 144-160.
  5. The organization have a hard time filling the 70,000 seat EverBank Field. Wembley Stadium has 90,000 seats, and the Jaguars game there last year was attended by 83,559.
  6. The UK-based fan club, Union Jax, has 23,000 members.

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    Fulham F.C.

  7. Khan is familiar with the London-market since he owns the Fulham F.C. soccer team.

Even former quarterback Mark Brunell told First Coast News he believes it’ll happen:

We have an owner in Shad Khan that bought the soccer team over there and all indications are that we’re headed that way.  It’s not good for Jacksonville. You don’t hear a lot of that talk in Jacksonville right now, but everywhere else . . . someone mentioned the other day that it’s the Jacksonville Jaguars of London.”

A few other names have been thrown around as possibly heading across the pond, like the San Diego Chargers, but the Jaguars seem to be the “it team.” Khan continues to say he is dedicated to making the team succeed in Jacksonville.

Should the Jaguars further test the London-market by spending half their season in the U.S. and the other half in the UK? Stayed tuned — that’s next!

Picking Sides is Challenging

Do you have a favorite NFL team? Yeah, so do fans who live in the United Kingdom and watch games played in the United States. They’ve been rooting for a team for years, and they’ll probably die rooting for that team — just like Americans.

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Denver Broncos fan

Just because a team is created or moved overseas, not everyone is going to cheer for the home team. Fans have been loyal to specific teams — they know the players, they have the jerseys and hats, and they may have traveled to the United States to see a game. These folks are not going to wake up one day and decide to have a change of heart. You wouldn’t decide to suddenly switch from the Tennessee Titans to the Seattle Seahawks. Why should the NFL expected Londoners to do that?

As blogger Keith Burton stated, some people in the UK have rooted for the Chicago Bears or Washington Redskins for the past 30 years. He’s worried:

Myself, I am as English as tea and crumpets. However, I am also a Giants fan down to my bone marrow. I’d love to see the Big Blue back here in the UK just as I want to see more and more NFL teams make regular visits. The one thing I’m pretty sure I don’t want to see is a revitalized London Monarchs team going 2-14 each year playing in front of a hometown crowd cheering their opponents.”

No one really knows why folks in the UK choose certain teams. Maybe it’s because they played a game in
London? Maybe it’s because they won a Super Bowl? As Ravi Ubha wrote, there are several possibilities:

Goldstein enjoyed the freedom of picking his own team and was drawn to the Bears due to the personalities on offer, like Mike Ditka, Jim McMahon and the Fridge.”

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Logan Ryan, New England Patriots

At the Vikings-Steelers game in 2013, the Wall Street Journal did a count of the most popular NFL jerseys. They stood outside the Wembley Stadium gate and found:

Over the course of an hour, we saw 477 fans wearing jerseys not belonging to the Vikings or Steelers. Of those, every other NFL team was represented, except the Chiefs.”

The Patriots had 13.4% of the total with 64 jerseys, followed by the Green Bay Packers at 43. The survey also found Tom Brady’s jersey was the most prevalent, and only two people showed up in in London Monarchs and Barcelona Dragons jerseys from the NFL Europe days. Why did the Miami Dolphins come in at#4? They haven’t played a game in London and they haven’t been in the Super Bowl since 1985. Ideas?

Fact of the matter: People in London already have their “it team.” It’s going to be a challenge to build a loyal fan base for a new team. Is the NFL up for the challenge?

If anyone in the UK is still on the fence on which team to root for, Sportsmail compared NFL teams with the Premier League. Check it out, it’s quite amusing.

Rooting for a Team is Tough

Whether the National Football League decides to bring a team to the United Kingdom is still up in the air. Either way, it is rough to cheer for any team if someone lives in London.

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Games can only be found on a handful networks. Sky Sports airs the majority of the competitions, but it requires a subscription to cable or satellite — much like ESPN. The current contract, which expires after the 2014 season, consists of:

REGULAR SEASON: Two live prime time fixtures every Sunday kicking off at 6pm and 9.15pm, three Thanksgiving Day clashes, plus regular matches on Thursday nights.

PLAYOFFS AND SUPER BOWL: Live coverage of every wild card, divisional and Conference Championship playoff match, plus live coverage of the annual season ending Super Bowl.

SUPPORT PROGRAMMING: The NFL’s RedZone score update show every Sunday of the regular season available via the red button, NFL Total Access twice a week and watch out for news of exciting new regular season midweek coverage.”

Sky Sports also broadcasts the games played at Wembley Stadium and the NFL Draft. Unknown-1EuroSport, also a subscription channel, airs Monday Night Football. Channel 4, the equivalent of CBS, signed a deal last summer to show Sunday Night Football games, the Super Bowl, and the games played in London. Channel 4′s sports editor Jamie Aitchison said of the coverage:

The NFL has always had a connection with the Channel 4 audience and it’s fantastic that after the return of Sunday Night Football we now can tell the story of the whole season right up to its spectacular conclusion. The Super Bowl is an iconic event and alongside the live Wembley games we can showcase the sport in all its glory. We are proud to be the NFL’s sole terrestrial partner.”

Once folks know where to watch a game, they’ll have to get up early or stay up late. Sunday Night Football games typically kickoff around 8:00 p.m. ET in the U.S. — that’s 1:00 a.m. in London. If someone watches down to the final second, they’ll be awake until around 5:00 a.m. Good luck explaining to them in explaining why they’re drowsy to their bosses. Would they drink coffee or beer during the game?

Tailgating at Wembley Stadium

Did you know it’s illegal to tailgate at Wembley Stadium? If anyone wants to have a good time before a game gets started, they have to do so at a pub or food truck down the street since local laws prohibit grilling by cars. Not to mention, the vehicles Europeans drive are not big enough to haul a grill and cooler. The NFL holds a “formal tailgating party” about five hours before kickoff, but that probably just isn’t the same.

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Sports Bar & Grill

The places to go out and watch games are limited. Not very many will stay open past midnight, and that’s before kickoff. If you’re ever visiting London and need to catch a game, you can stop by Sports Bar & Grill in Melcombe Place — it keeps its 15 televisions on until 4 a.m. on game days.

Boy! It’s tough being a NFL fan in Europe.