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The NFL in London: Why It Will Work

When the 32 NFL owners gather in Arizona for the NFL’s Annual Meeting beginning this Sunday, there will be many discussions on rule changes, league plans, and the state of each franchise.

But another issue that has recently become a hot topic of discussion is the league’s possible expansion to Europe. While many are against such an expansion, the NFL can benefit from having a team across the pond. Here are some of the most common cases against the idea — and one reporter’s opinion on why those arguments don’t hold up. 

The NFL will have a difficult time cultivating an international fan base.

Many analysts believe that European markets, specifically London, will not be able to support an NFL franchise. However, over the three games played in Wembley Stadium in London in 2014, the International Business Times estimated that the NFL generated more than $32 million in revenue. All three games were held in front of sellout crowds. Compare the attendance of each International Series game to the average attendance of a game in Jacksonville, the 21st ranked team in the NFL in attendance, and London attracted more than 24 percent more fans than Jacksonville per game.

Relocation, not expansion, is the answer.

If conditions in London are better than in Jacksonville, some might argue, why not move the Jaguars there? Well, since the Rams and Raiders left in the mid-1990s, there been a need in Los Angeles for an NFL team. Most leagues expand in increments of two teams to keep the conferences balanced. By expanding to both Los Angeles and London — instead of moving the St. Louis Rams to L.A., as has been proposed — the conferences will remain balanced, and St. Louis would get to keep its football team. 

The NFL’s talent pool will become diluted. 

Some have worried that there won’t be enough talented players if the league expands beyond 32 teams. But as author Pat Kirwan wrote in his book Take Your Eye Off the Ball, more college players are NFL-ready by the time draft day rolls around. To keep the college game competitive, coaches have recently been adopting NFL-style offenses for their players to run. Defenses are then forced to defend against those new concepts, giving them experience against the same strategies they’ll face in the NFL.

Teams will have to spend too much time traveling.

By basing a team in Europe, long flights would be necessary not only for teams visiting London, but also for the London team playing away games (especially when playing West Coast teams). This issue can be partially addressed by putting the London team in one of the eastern divisions. The league can also work to add more games on days of the week other than Sunday to accommodate the travel needs of various teams. Finally, by adding more bye weeks close to weeks requiring international travel, the league can give teams more time to become adjusted and recover after each long flight.

It is most unlikely anything drastic concerning a European NFL team will be decided at the Arizona meetings. But the foundation for expansion is there. It’s only a matter of time before London hosts an NFL team, and a new team in Los Angeles comes with it.

Photos: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images, Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

nfl in london
nfl in london