BELOW YOU WILL see the current geographical spread of the NFL. Imagine adding London to this map?
A map of current NFL franchise locations
(C) TheScore.ie 2012
Some quick facts: There are over 4,300 kilometres between Foxboro (home of the New England Patriots) and San Francisco (home of the 49ers). There are 5,300 km between Foxboro and London, where the Patriots played yesterday.
There are just 18 kilometres between San Francisco and Oakland (home of the Raiders) but a whopping 8,600 plus km (as the crow flies) between the city by the bay and London.
With those sorts of distances involved, does having a London franchise make sense? Of course it doesn’t.
Instead, I believe that the NFL should look at a return to NFL Europe, albeit in a significantly different format than its previous incarnation.
For those of you who don’t remember, the NFL’s international expansion ran from 1991 until 2007 under various monikers including the World League of American Football, World League, NFL Europe and finally, in it’s last pathetic season where five of the six competing teams were based in Germany, NFL Europa.
What I propose is an eight team, pan-European league with each franchise serving as a feeder team to the NFL’s eight divisions.
Every other major American sport has a minor league system, why not football?
There could be teams based in London, Berlin, Munich, Paris, Madrid, Warsaw, Rome and (to be selfish) Dublin.
Teams would play in one division, playing each other home and away before the top four play-off for a place in the EuroBowl.
Each squad would consist of 60 players, ten from each of the four teams in the division they represent, ten free agents from anywhere else and ten homegrown players. The European teams would only have to pay the twenty players not coming directly from the division they represent. Those 40 would be funded by their own organisations.
The key would be playing in smaller stadiums with a maximum capacity of, perhaps, 20,000, to allow for a demand for tickets without having the disheartening sight of near empty stadia.
The new NFL Europe would take place between May and August when most other sports are on their summer break to ensure maximum TV coverage and it would be in NFL Europe’s interest to negotiate free-to-air deals for at least the first three seasons to generate more interest in the sport.
London franchise is not the answer
Will this work? Who knows; this is very much a back-of-the-beermat idea that would require much more research by the NFL itself.
It’s worth noting that while the previous incarnation of NFL Europe was apparently losing €23 million per year, the demand for American football in Europe is clear from the success of the Emerald Isle Classic earlier this year in Dublin, Sunday’s Wembley game and the two planned for next season.
A London franchise is not, however, the answer to the demand for football on this side of the Atlantic. Firstly, it makes a mockery of Germany which has the largest participation in American football in Europe. Secondly, how could you ask teams like the Raiders, Seahawks, 49ers and Chargers to make return trips in excess of 15,000 km for a game of football?
If the NFL want to re-jig their own league, they should move the Chargers to LA and stop burying their head in the sand when it comes to gambling on football and move the Jaguars to Las Vegas. That, however, is a completely different column.
There’s too much of a demand for American football on this continent to be satisfied by one team, but is there enough to justify a league? I think it’s certainly worth the NFL investigating the possibility.
Week eight results:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 36 @ Minnesota Vikings 17
Carolina Panthers 22 @ Chicago Bears 23
San Diego Chargers 6 @ Cleveland Browns 7
Seattle Seahawks 24 @ Detroit Lions 28
Jacksonville Jaguars 15 @ Green Bay Packers 24
Miami Dolphins 30 @ New York Jets 9
Atlanta Falcons 30 @ Philadelphia Eagles 17
Washington Redskins 12 @ Pittsburgh Steelers 27
New England Patriots 45 @ St. Louis Rams 7
Indianapolis Colts 19 @ Tennessee Titans 13
Oakland Raiders 26 @ Kansas City Chiefs 16
New York Giants 29 @ Dallas Cowboys 24
New Orleans Saints 14 @ Denver Broncos 34
Two Minute Warning: Vick Ballard is good at ballet and other must-see plays from this weekend’s NFL action