London Before Los Angeles

Eventually Los Angeles and London will have their own National Football League franchises. Commissioner Roger Goodell has made it clear what he wants:

I want both [London and LA], but it doesn’t matter which one is first.”

Commissioner_Goodell_at_the_2010_NFL_Draft_podium

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

It’s been almost two decades since the Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams called L.A. home. The NFL Draft may be held in the City of Angels next year, but residents shouldn’t get too excited too soon because London will have a team first.

The league is just putting a lot of emphasis on playing abroad. Goodell said this to a crowd of fans in Europe last October:

 We are making sure we can bring more football to more people. The UK fans have been terrific. Seeing over 500,000 people the day before the game at a rally is really extraordinary. It is a signal that there is real interest in our game internationally.”

4047223542_ec95d9752e_o

Wembley Stadium

The NFL has gradually increased the number of International Series games at Wembley Stadium since 2007; this year there will be three games. There’s even talk they could play four games next year and five games in 2016. As Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker pointed out, L.A. has no games scheduled.

London is a new market with a ton of potential. Europeans haven’t been overexposed to American football, so they are loving every minute of it. Every game at Wembley has sold-out and television ratings in England keep increasing.

London_Big_Ben_Phone_box

London, England

Here’s another factor: London has a population of 8.3 million, while Los Angeles only has 3.8 million. That’s 4.5 million more wallets the league can try to open up — and that doesn’t even consider the folks who live elsewhere in Europe who are also interested in the NFL.

As the L.A. Times explained, staying out of L.A. may be the best move for right now:

This market has already lost two teams, and three if you count the short-lived L.A. Chargers. In that sense, it’s about as rock-solid reliable as a Hollywood marriage.”

Here’s the biggest hang-up: League officials have made it clear that L.A. lacks the proper stadium to house a team. Even experts have weighed in:

The political structure with funding stadiums is horrendous in the state of California. The other big challenge from having lived down in LA is the amount of transplants that live there.”

At a media event two weeks ago in Beverly Hills, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft backed up what everyone is saying:

“But like [Roger] said, the most important thing is to have the right facility. You have so many choices in L.A. of things to do. And the weather is great; the people are great. If you don’t have something really compelling, people won’t be there all the time.”

Here’s another hint at what’s to come: NFL officials have confirmed they’re shopping around for a new venue in London when the contract with Wembley expires in two years. Check out this previous blog post for more on that.

At least Goodell has given a timetable on when to expect an expansion across the Atlantic Ocean:

We actually couldn’t be more surprised by the tremendous demand for NFL football in London, in the UK in general, and frankly in Europe. So it’s not something that I think is 15 or 20 years away. It could be five or 10 years away.”

When you compile all the obvious signs, the NFL has made it pretty clear that it wants to get to Europe tomorrow. That’s the first item on their agenda. Plus, they’d become the only American professional sports league to have a team based in Europe. Maybe after they complete the task, then they can work on getting a franchise in L.A.

Recruiting A Good Team of Attorneys

The National Football League‘s plans to expand to Europe raise a lot of questions. When will it happen? Will a team relocate or be created? How will schedules be created? Who will want to play there?

It’s drawn a lot of criticism. Green Bay Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy Unknownrecently told shareholders:

I anticipate that the Packers will probably play there in the coming years, but it will be an away game. They will never take a home game.”

It’s also drawn a lot of positivity. Oakland Raiders team captain and fullback Marcel Reece told Brit View NFL:

I’m excited that the Raiders finally get a chance to come out to Wembley Stadium, to have some fun and get a win. We’re an international team and we have an international fan base – there is only one nation and that’s the Raider Nation.”

Patriots_prepare_to_kick_kick_PAT_at_New_England_at_Oakland_12-14-08No matter what side of the fence you’re on, the NFL has some pretty big legal hurdles to jump over first. It’s all about the money, right?

United Kingdom tax laws are very different from the United States. Athletes competing in the UK are taxed up to 45%, while the highest rate in the U.S. is 39.6%.

As ESPN points out, athletes playing overseas are also taxed on global endorsement income:

The amount is determined by dividing the number of days the athlete spends training and competing in the UK annually by the total number of days he trained and competed around the world. That percentage is then multiplied by the athlete’s total global endorsement income to determine the amount subject to taxation.”

Sounds pretty confusing! The teams who play in the NFL International Series games are only in London for less than a week, so the financial burden is very minimal right now.

2975733999_63fe8d4a78_z

Wembley Stadium

The bottom line is athletes playing for a London team will have a far greater tax burden. Forbes published an article back in 2012 that really explained the complicated issue. Michael David Smith from ProFootballTalk also posted a few suggestions, like creating extra salary cap space or giving relocation stipends.

A full home schedule in London also means players will need work visas. Ian Robinson, manager at the immigration law firm Fragomen in London, said there may be a quick fix:

The league could negotiate with the existing British American Football Association or it could negotiate with the government to establish its own office based in the UK.”

Players with criminal convictions would have to stay in America, though.

Michael_Vick_passing,_November_2006

Michael Vick on the Atlanta Falcons

The league will also have to handle labor laws, particularly competition laws and free movement laws. The NFL Draft may become an issue as attorney Andrew Nixon points out:

The trickier issue with the draft system would be that it would breach a worker’s right to move freely, and the EU distinguishes between exemption under competition rules and exemption from free movement rules.”

Have a headache yet? The NFL will need a good legal team to sort through all these stipulations. They can’t expect the United Kingdom to change or bend the rules, either. They have to accept them and make the necessary adjustments. You may consider reading this academic article on “Antitrust and ‘Free Movement’ Risk of Expanding U.S. Professional Sports Leagues into Europe” for more insight.

You Can’t Go Home If You Don’t Have a Home

It’s only a matter of time before the National Football League establishes a team in London, however they’ll first need a place to call home.

Wembley_Stadium,_illuminated

Wembley Stadium

The NFL has been under contract since 2007 to play its International Series at Wembley Stadium through 2016, but it’s never too early to start planning ahead.

According to the Sports Business Journal, league officials have started exploring other venues. Chris Parsons, NFL senior vice president of international, confirmed it to the reporter:

Clearly Wembley gives us some great options. At the same time, Wembley also has England [soccer] games going on during the weeks we play. That is a challenge for us if we want to play more games, how we actually fit into the schedule.”

Even if the NFL didn’t have to work around soccer games at Wembley, it would be great if the league could continue playing sold-out games there, but that’s just not a reality.

We are constantly looking at where we can play, what options we might have. We would be stupid not to.”

dsc_5508

Wembley Stadium

Wembley is built for about 90,000 spectators, yet there are only about 84,000 available seats once you consider the space needed for the teams and broadcasting equipment.

Filling 84,000 seats for eight home games will never happen, as SBJ reports:

The average capacity at NFL teams’ venues last season was about 71,000.”

Wembley has nearly 2,000 more seats than MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. There’s no way a new franchise can expect to play in what could be the biggest NFL stadium.

The only reason the league can sell-out the venue now is because there are only a couple games a year, which creates more of a demand and carries a “can’t miss” vibe. The league will see if it adds four games in 2015 and possible five games in 2016, the demand may not be quite as high.

If the league wants to make this London franchise successful, it has to avoid empty seats.

Olympic_Park,_London,_14_June_2011_(2)_cropped

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium is a possible alternative. It will reopen in 2016 after a lengthy renovation with around 54,000 seats. There is talk that it will have retractable bleachers near the field to accommodate football and soccer games.

London mayor Boris Johnson was in talks with league officials about Olympic Stadium just two years ago.

The talks were exploratory and we are at an early stage but the signs are encouraging.”

There’s even word of plans to build a soccer-football specific 58,000-seat venue to open in 2017.

Some suggest the NFL stay put in Wembley. Terry Byrne, a marketer, says:

The problem with playing in the home of an EPL team is that fans of other soccer clubs might not want to go to that venue even to watch American football.”

Either way, the NFL is going to have to find the perfect venue and step on some toes along the way. There aren’t many options, so finding the right one will be tough and will either make or break whether a team calls London home. Good luck, guys!

Hard at Work Recruiting British Fans

The National Football League is currently in the offseason, but that’s not stopping the Jacksonville Jaguars from trying to recruit United Kingdom fans. The latest technique is quite clever, too!

Letter-Sign

Jaxson de Ville

Mascot Jaxson de Ville wrote a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron. He requested all Jags fans in England be given a day off to recognize America’s Independence Day.

The special relationship that the US and UK share should absolutely be extended to the Jaguars’ UK fans.”

He suggested it go by a different name, though. As the Daily Mail pointed out, it would have been called an “EverBank Holiday.”

A variation on Britain’s traditional Bank Holidays and including the name of Jacksonville’s home stadium, EverBank Field.”

photo3

Letter sent to PM David Cameron

Who wouldn’t want an extra day off? I’d become a Jaguars fan if that meant I could get a three-day weekend! It shows the team cares about its supporters, and folks think highly of organizations that help others. As Jaxson said:

The NFL games in London bring a huge amount of revenue into the British economy so surely one day off for our incredible fans in the UK can’t hurt, right?”

Cameron didn’t give anyone a day off, but the letter certainly generated a buzz about the Jaguars in the middle of the summer.

@woz1967 tweeted:

Hell Yeah I’m on board. #GoJags #BeJaguars #StandUnited #CypSquadUK #Wembley #USMNT”

@Ten_TitansUK tweeted:

I’d be a jags fan for a day, for a bit of that action!!”

But Jessica Marie disagreed on the team’s Facebook:

While funny I kind of feel like this “letter” is a little disrespectful and condescending  considering history between countries and all especially.”

Kevin Tapee also didn’t like it:

Personally I think this lacks taste. To refer to the Prime Minister of England as Dave and not at the very least Mr. Cameron? Poor taste.”

The main point of the letter was to reminded spectators the team will play the Dallas Cowboys on November 9 at the sold-out Wembley Stadium. They’ll continue to play there in 2015 and 2016. A subtle reminder the organization is really testing the water to possibly become the “Jacksonville Jaguars of London.”

We love visiting our second home in London and our fans across the UK are awesome.”

The Jaguars seem to be the only team really putting forth an effort to recruit fans in London. By the way, I just realized the organization has a specific page on their website dedicated to “Jaguars UK.” They also have a specific Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Is this another sign?

Good Luck Getting Americans to London

8000560221_b970397204_z

Quarterback Peyton Manning

The Denver Broncos have the best road fans, according to a scientific analysis. The study found the team was the top ticket-selling road team in the National Football League last season. The Dallas CowboysSan Francisco 49ersNew England Patriots, and Green Bay Packers followed.

These fans consistently travel across the United States to see their teams compete, but will they follow them overseas if the NFL decides to put a franchise in the United Kingdom? Probably not.

It’s going to take a while for people to plan the trip, it’ll be expensive, and it’s more than just a weekend getaway.

While perusing the web, I came across an interesting article that Ben Koo wrote about his friend’s experience seeing the 49ers play the Jacksonville Jaguars last October.

The group of eight started planning the trip in April. He stayed in London for nine days. The total cost of the trip for ONE person? He says it was $3,000-$5,000:

  1. Plane – $1,250 roundtrip for economy seats from San Francisco to Heathrow
  2. Hotel – $225 for two twin beds
  3. Game Tickets – $225-$250 for upper deck at Wembley Stadium
  4. Transportation on the London Underground to Wembley – 34 ₤ for seven days
  5. Beers – 4-5 ₤ a piece, or about $5-$7
  6. Food – 8-12 ₤ for burgers, fish, and chips
  7. Various amounts for tourists sites

Don’t forget the majority of the NFL season is played when it is chilly outside. Travelers are going to have to pay extra to add jackets, gloves, and hats to their luggage.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a lot of people who have $5,000 they can just toss around for ONE football game, let alone take nine days off of work at one time.

Team Marketing Report, a publisher of sports marketing and sponsorship information, entry0000026_img000puts out a yearly Fan Cost Index.

Here’s the average costs for a family of four to see a NFL game in the U.S.:

  1. Tickets – $81.54
  2. Beer – $7.05 for two small cups
  3. Soft Drink – $4.48 for four small cups
  4. Hot Dog – $5.07 for four regular servings
  5. Parking – $30.57 for one car
  6. Program – $3.71 for two
  7. Hat – $21.60 for two least-expensive, adult-sized adjustable ones

When you add those numbers up, the total only comes out to $459.65. It’s a 3.7% increase from the previous season, but it’s nearly $4,500 cheaper than going across the Atlantic. Don’t forget — this is for four people.

By the way, the Cowboys had the highest Fan Cost Index of $634.78. That’s still a significant savings! The Cleveland Browns had the lowest Fan Cost Index of $343.80. That’s an even better savings!

NFL on Regent Street, London

NFL on Regent Street in London

Even if Koo’s friend spent his entire savings to go across the pond, it sounds like the group had a good time:

There were a ton of people in every single NFL football jersey you could think of! We actually made it into a drinking game.”

Americans just aren’t going to go to the UK to catch a game. Sure, seeing a game in the U.S. isn’t quite the same as seeing one in London, but it’s too expensive for the average middle-class person. Times are tough. People have more important things to spend their money on, like college debt, credit card debt, childcare, car payments, etc. If the NFL establishes a team in England, it will be up to the locals to support them. They cannot rely on the Americans.

Helping the Media Help the NFL

The National Football League says it has a current fan base of more than 12 million in the United Kingdom, including 2.5 million avid fans. That’s a 30% increase in the last two years! Yet, for some reason it’s hard to find a story about the NFL in the UK media.

Royal visit to Hertfordshire

Queen Elizabeth

Most people understand it may not be front page material when there are countless soccer matches and Queen Elizabeth to talk about, but reporters can at least do a little more than what they’re doing now — which is barely nothing.

After the NFL hosted two games in London last year, SBNation found the media didn’t seem thrilled:

The Daily Mail gave the game less than 100 words in its “Sports” section on Monday. It shared the page with tennis and golf.”

That’s two pictures and two sentences. I counted. Here’s another one:

The Daily Telegraph spent less than 50 words on the game, relegating it to a page with coverage of cricket and squash.”

London_3

They also had only two sentences. Here’s another one:

The City A.M. really went all out. If you remove the names of the team, stadium and score, you get an entire two words on the game.”

That headline read “San Francisco 49ers beat Jacksonville Jaguars 42-10 at Wembley Stadium.” Hey, at least there was a small picture!

What gives? You could argue that these publications believe their audiences of older readers aren’t interested in the NFL. So, wouldn’t they want to post stories on their websites for the younger people? Nope. As SportsBusiness Daily found:

The website of major publications like the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and the Guardian had no NFL stories on their home pages.”

Even since last year’s games, not much has been reported. The City A.M. hasn’t posted one NFL story since November. The Telegraph’s last article was posted at the beginning of May. The Daily Mail has at least been a little more consistent.

2975733999_63fe8d4a78_z

Wembley Stadium

Journalists have no excuses. As mentioned before, millions care about the league. Each NFL International Series game since 2007 has sold-out at Wembley Stadium. Dedicated fans even watch games on television or online.

Maybe the problem is simply the journalists are too busy. After all, London has more than a dozen professional soccer teams that play in the fall. They’re busy covering soccer and space is limited on their pages. Maybe they just don’t understand the game so they feel like they can’t adequately cover it.

The NFL should help these reporters out and give them reasons to write stories. They should invite them to a seminar where they are taught how American football works. American writers could be guest speakers. The league could pay for some British reporters to fly to the United States and see a game and all the hype. The NFL could send them news releases that are ready to be ripped and re-printed. One person in the league should be responsible for handling all UK media requests promptly. The NFL could grant them exclusive interviews with particular players, coaches, or Commissioner Roger Goodell. They can boost their visits during the offseason to get coverage that doesn’t have to compete with soccer.

If the NFL wants to continue to grow, it’s going to need the help of the media. It can get the help by helping provide the help. Follow me? What do you think? Leave a comment.