49ers Co-Chair John York Says NFL London Franchise 'Sort Of A Shot In The Dark'
NFL San Francisco 49ers co-Chair John York said that trying to put a franchise in the U.K. right now would be "sort of a shot in the dark." York, who served as the chairman of the NFL’s int'l committee before becoming chairman of the owners’ health and safety committee, told SBD Global, "We don’t know that there’s enough support for a team playing eight regular season games and two preseason games in London. But we do know that we can play two and sell them out very quickly and have a lot of fan interest and growing interest." In addition, there is absolutely no push back from either London or any of the NFL owners to increase the number of games to three next year, York added. When the NFL played its first regular season game in London in ’07, the game was sold out in about 48 hours. However, York said that the game between the Giants and Dolphins had roughly 30% of the fans coming from the greater London area and 70% from the rest of the continent. York: “That probably is not a sustainable model over the long period.” During the last seven seasons in which the NFL has continuously increased its push into the U.K. market, this ratio has shifted. This year’s two regular season games had about 65-70% fans from the greater London area and the U.K. in attendance, while 40% of fans came to both games at Wembley Stadium. These numbers, York said, show that the fan base is becoming more concentrated in and around London, and that there is an appetite to come to more than one game.
AIRTIME: Another aspect that will help the NFL move forward with its plan of establishing a franchise in the British capital is increased media coverage. While the NFL has been on pay sports channels for a number of years, ’13 has been the first year that games are back on free-to-air TV. York: “Free-to-air TV will raise the awareness of the NFL and increase fan avidity probably more than anything else. This year for me, even though I’m over there every year, I’ve seen more interest in terms of sponsorship in the game and discussing how companies can be more involved in the NFL in London, and consumer products with jerseys and everything, the paraphernalia that people buy has increased tremendously." York said he has heard anecdotally from Nike that the company had two big spikes with the games over there selling NFL equipment. The combination of a change in fan demographic and increased media coverage is what increased fan awareness and fan avidity for the NFL in the U.K., York said, and that leads to the question about a future franchise. Asked about a timeline for establishing a London-based franchise, York said, “The way to look at this is not what the timeline for a franchise in London is. It is two components: what is the NFL’s investment, which continues to increase in the U.K. and other countries outside the U.S. And what is the fan interest in the NFL as we continue to grow? And I don’t think that there’s an answer for that right now.”