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Volume 7 No. 149
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Outgoing NFL Exec Says London Could Be Home To A Team By '21

The Seattle Seahawks defeated the Oakland Raiders 27-3 on Oct. 14 at Wembley.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The NFL believes “the timing is perfect” for a London-based franchise to launch within the next three years, according to one of its senior execs, who is leaving the league at the end of the season.

Mark Waller will leave his role as exec VP of int'l after nearly 13 years with the NFL. 

London has hosted the majority of the NFL's overseas fixtures and the NFL has been open about its intention to expand its global footprint. Waller, an advocate of having a London NFL team, said that '21 was a "realistic" timeframe for a London-based team to be established.

He said, "I think the marketplace is ready in the U.K. to host a franchise. The fanbase is big enough, we have partnerships in media and sponsorships that are viable. We have stadiums that can host us, we have government support. I believe that 2021, that sort of timeframe, is a realistic timeframe for an owner to be ready."

Waller also pointed out that '21 is around the time of the renewal of the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement. A new franchise would need to be rubber-stamped by the CBA and factored into new media deals.

"The timing for me has always seemed to be perfect for that particular time. But ultimately, it’s our owners who decide where franchises get placed," Waller added.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have been seen as the most likely team to decamp from the U.S. to London. Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan was in talks to buy Wembley before the deal collapsed. Waller would not be drawn on whether the collapse of the Wembley deal would now deter Khan from moving the Jaguars to the U.K.

From the NFL perspective, it would be easier logistically to move a team from the U.S. rather than create a new franchise. Three NFL games were played in London in '18, all at Wembley, after one game had to be moved from Tottenham Hotspur's new stadium.

Waller said that switching stadiums had a minimal impact.

"We had always planned a contingency," he said. "We always knew with Tottenham that that the timeline of essentially a one-season absence initially was always going to be ambitious. We always had a fallback plan to be able to go to Wembley. And the beauty of that plan is we are very familiar with Wembley."

The NFL struck a 10-year deal with Tottenham in '15 to host a minimum of two games a year at its new stadium.

It also has a deal in place to host at least two games a year at Wembley until '20. Three games have also been held at Twickenham.

"We have always been very clear that one of the keys for us is to have stadium optionality. I would never rule out going back to Twickenham," Waller said. "It would be much harder for us to go to any other Premier League stadium other than Tottenham because of the two-pitch configuration."

Waller will leave the NFL at the end of the season and then will act as a consultant to the league in the near future.

"I think I would like to stay within the broad sports media landscape and see what I can learn," he said. "I love the space that international sport and media operates in. I think it’s a fantastic space from a fan engagement perspective. It’s a really complex world and I love the fact that so many sports now are looking to grow globally. And obviously, the media world we operate in now is totally seamless. And the digital social space is incredibly powerful facilitating the transition of sports around the world."