After experiencing the first of the three NFL international series games at Wembley stadium last Sunday between the Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders, in the aftermath I found myself wondering as a fan, will there be a fully fledged international franchise in the NFL anytime soon?
The idea for the first NFL franchise to come from outside the United States of America has been slowly building momentum since the first international series game at Wembley in 2007. That one game has now turned into three regular season games with the promise of more to come in the ensuing years. This growing momentum could well lead to a permanent NFL franchise in the next 10 years, but could it work logistically?
Many at first glance would simply dismiss this idea with a quick “no”, citing the vast distance that would be between every other NFL franchise in America and a European franchise. The move would also meet with a widespread resistance from within the NFL, as I’m sure a large majority of the current 32 NFL franchises would not be willing to travel across to Europe to play, despite the obvious commercial benefits of the NFL branching out into Europe.
When actually giving this idea some thought some other considerations have to come into play also. Firstly history, whilst this may sound a bit strange to hear at first we must first look at the success and ultimate failure of NFL Europe when discussing a permanent franchise in Europe. Whilst NFL Europe contained some good players during it’s tenure from 1991 and 2007. The league was supported by the NFL with the teams using the European teams as a development league for young players not yet ready for the NFL. Alongside these players were those in the later stages of their career or free agents not picked up by the NFL after college. The attendances were steady if not spectacular with an average of just over 20 000 across the league for their final season in 2007. Whilst the attendance of 83 459 for last Sunday’s game is very impressive and shows the support the NFL has in Europe, yet could this be realistically sustained across a 16 week season?
Another factor to consider is the logistics with starting an NFL franchise. This is something that is difficult enough to start in America, let alone Europe with the last NFL franchise being the Houston Texans in 2002. The infrastructure needed to start the franchise would take several years to put in place, with obvious factors such as training facilities alongside finding a permanent stadium would all be things to organise. Aside from the infrastructure the actual roster itself would pose problems as it would likely be much harder to attract top line players to join a team so removed from their own culture, despite the growing international flavour of the NFL.
With all these factors considered for me the most logical step is to carry on with what the NFL is planning at the moment, to slowly increase the level of support in Europe with a gradual increase in the amount of games hosted in Europe to effectively gain the required support needed before any thoughts of a permanent franchise can be considered. For now the NFL has the right recipe for success with a crucial market such as Europe, it’s now up to them to follow through with it.