SBD/September 30, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

How Sustainable Would An NFL Franchise In London Be With Travel, Marketing Expenses?

Regular-season NFL games in London have averaged over 82,000 fans
The NFL is "fully invested in the idea of placing a franchise in London," and while no timetable has been set, '20 "seems like a logical target date," according to Gary Myers of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. The league has been "conducting periodic meetings to evaluate the logistics of having a team in London." Whether it is "an expansion team or a relocated team," the NFL is "highly motivated to have a franchise in London." Myers: "The way things are going, it’s quite possible the league will put a team in London before it puts a team back in Los Angeles" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/29). CBS's Jason La Canfora noted players "don’t love the idea, but the owners are very much committed to this happening." La Canfora: "Big-time owners like Bob Kraft are behind it 100 percent. ... When you start looking towards 2020, you’ve got the expiration of the TV contracts, you’ve got the expiration of the CBA. That’s when I think you’ll see a real push." Former Raiders Chief Exec Amy Trask said putting a team in London is "something the league feels passionately about, but it’s a stretch." Trask: "There are a lot of logistical issues that complicate a London move." But La Canfora said, "I don’t think these owners are going to let things like logistics get in the way of what could be this kind of money” (“That Other Pregame Show,” CBS Sports Network, 9/29). However, NFL U.K. Managing Dir Alistair Kirkwood said that London is “still not a credible host city for an NFL franchise despite the success of the International Series.” He said, “We should still continue to take it one step at a time. We’ve substantially grown our fanbase in the UK, but I still think we’re a little bit away before we can credibly talk about having a London franchise” (SKYSPORTS.com, 9/30).

COULD LONDON SUPPORT A TEAM? SPORTS ON EARTH's Ravi Ubha notes the average attendance of the seven regular-season games held in London thus far "sits at more than 82,000, which would have placed it second last season behind" the Cowboys. NFL fans from other parts of Europe "could hop to London and return home the same day, as part of a relatively cheap experience." Whether a London-based team "would face a competitive disadvantage is a consideration that shouldn't be overlooked, and surely won't be by the NFL owners." But perhaps the "question is edging towards, 'Does the league want a team in London?' as opposed to 'Can London support one?'" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 9/30). In London, Oliver Brown writes following yesterday's Steelers-Vikings game at Wembley Stadium, observers were "left in no doubt from the raptures of these 85,000 disciples that a London NFL team, ostensibly the craziest piece of sporting expansionism ever ventured, might just happen sooner than we think" (London TELEGRAPH, 9/30). Also in London, Ben Saunders writes, "The debate as to whether an NFL franchise will eventually come to London has almost reached saturation point, but last night's action will have given the fans a thirst for more" (LONDON TIMES, 9/30). Sky Sports NFL analyst Neil Reynolds prior to yesterday's game said, "I'm pretty sure there will be three games next year and I think we'll get at least 70,000 people at each match. That would make London one of the best-supported teams in the NFL. I think it's going to happen, I really do" (GUARDIAN, 9/29).

NOT EVERYONE IS ON BOARD: In Pittsburgh, Alan Robinson writes, "Players around the NFL are beginning to learn -- and fear -- London is calling." Steelers President Art Rooney II said that there "could be three NFL regular-season games in London as early as next year." He added, "We're trying to build it. There's no definite timetable (for a London franchise), but it certainly is in the active evaluation process now. ... We're taking things a step at a time and evaluating as we go." Rooney continued, "Whether the Jaguars or some other team are going to be seriously interested in moving here, that's a piece of the puzzle that hasn't been in place yet." Steelers S Ryan Clark said that it is one thing to "ask a player to move from San Francisco to Kansas City, but it's an entirely different thing to ask him to relocate not only to a different country but a different continent." He added, "You would see guys take less money in order to not be in London." Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger: "I don't know what player would want to go play over there. You'd have to move your family over there. What if you got traded? To me, there's too many issues involved. But knowing the NFL, they'll find a way to make someone's life miserable" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 9/30).

THERE AND BACK AGAIN: Vikings WR Greg Jennings said of the possibility of having a franchise in London permanently, "Here to the States and back every time you played a road game? Wow. That would be tough." But he added having a team in London would be "great for the league." Jennings also said that he "wouldn't rule out signing with a London team." Vikings LB and union rep Chad Greenway "wondered how the currency exchange rate ... would be handled when it comes to compensating players." He said, "I think it would be difficult working with a salary cap system to have a team here. I'd think it would be harder bringing in free agents." But in Minneapolis, Mark Craig noted travel "seems to be the No. 1 objection." Vikings DE Jared Allen said, "I think the fan base could sustain it. But it's a lot to ask for a player. Personally speaking, I probably wouldn't sign over here because of the fact that every road trip is going to be three, four, five days away from your family" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 9/29). SportsCorp President Marc Ganis said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "has a vision for a permanent team in London, but he's one of the very few that does." Ganis added, "Commissioners get pie-eyed about international." NFL Senior VP/Int'l Chris Parsons said that games in London "only came 'close to break even,' and that did not include the significant marketing expenses." For many of the league's "hard-nosed owners, the math does not yet appear compelling" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/29).

COMMENTS FROM THE PEANUT GALLERY: CBS' Phil Simms said the idea of having a successful NFL team in London "has a chance." Simms: "It's like an event; it's like a party to everybody over here" ("The NFL Today," CBS, 9/29). WFAN-AM's Joe Benigno asked, "Is there a bigger joke than the NFL playing games in London?" He said, "If I'm in Minnesota, I'm going delirious. You took one of my games away" ("Daily News Live," SportsNet N.Y., 9/27). ESPN's Tom Waddle: "You're never going to be able to build a passionate, sizeable fanbase overseas that will support an NFL franchise. If ultimately the goal is to have an NFL franchise play eight home games overseas, that’s never going to work" ("Colin's New Football Show," ESPN2, 9/29). ABC's Brent Musburger said, "A lot of chatter this week about putting an expansion team in London. I got a better idea; let’s put one in Los Angeles” (“Wisconsin-Ohio State,” ABC, 9/28).
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