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With NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sparking rumors of further expansion of the NFL in the UK in both the near and distant future, the feeling is that England may well be getting a franchise before too long. As a British New England Patriots fan, I feel like this is a good platform to air my views on this potential expansion, and hopefully encompass the general feeling of fans across the pond.

I've been to the last two International Series games at Wembley (Chicago Bears @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers and of course the Pats @ St. Louis Rams), and they've both been great occasions. Obviously the opportunity to see a Tom Brady demolition was special, but also just experiencing a NFL gameday, seeing great players from a different perspective has been incredible. It's why I've got tickets for the Pittsburgh Steelers Minnesota Vikings matchup this year, and planning on going to at least one game every year. And it's not just UK fans - people from all across Europe will come to see these games while they're in town.

Goodell's enthusiasm is well merited too - there will be 2 games in the UK for the first time this year, and tickets for both sold very quickly, which is unsurprising when there are two storied Franchises coming (one of which is the reigning NFC Champion), and players like Adrian Peterson playing in these games. There have been various "fan evenings" put on in across the UK too, for example with Vikings players and Andrew Luck, all of which have had high turnouts (I tried and failed to get tickets for Luck...). The NFL is an increasingly big deal here, with a very loyal fanbase as a foundation, but with new fans coming all the time through increased media coverage on TV and Radio, and of course the internet making the sport far more accessible.

Do I see a Franchise in London working out long term? No. It just wouldn't work for me. Imagine trips from London to Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego. Having to do those potentially 3 times a year would be a killer. Add to that timezones - there could never be a Prime Time game in London, kick offs would be at 1:30am, which would be difficult come play-off time (games really can't finish later than 5pm ET). A team certainly couldn't use Wembley as their "home" stadium 8 times a year. The Olympic Stadium has been proposed, which would be good, but there are EPL soccer teams looking to move into there. Using various EPL stadiums would be tricky as well, working out the schedule, keeping the turf in good condition and policing would be just a few issues.

Well, Gronk seemed to enjoy England anyway.
Add to that the demand. Sure, two games have sold out. I'm sure 3 games would sell out too. But eight? I'm not sure. I'm sure the team would get a lot of fans, as the Jacksonville Jaguars have been recently, and I would go see them once or twice a year still - hell, it's NFL games a train journey away. But I wouldn't leave the Patriots. They're my team. I'm sure most fans wouldn't ditch their team to go support a London franchise. Also, NFL UK have said many times they wouldn't bring a team here unless American Football was in the top 5 most popular sports in the UK and I don't think it's that close yet - it's probably around 7th. Soccer, Cricket, Rugby, Tennis, Golf and Motorsport are at my guess the ones ahead of it, and I can't see American Football getting into that top 5 in time to bring a team over in say 2020.

I also have a gripping fear if we push our luck, we could lose it altogether. I love Goodell's ambition. But if he rushes a Franchise over here, and it fails, that could be it for the NFL in the UK for another long time. It's working right now. Teams like the Patriots love coming over here (if they don't have to give up a home game), we've had them twice, this will be the San Francisco 49ers second visit, we're getting the Steelers. A failure here could result in a huge decline of the sport here, which obviously wouldn't be great.

So to summarize, lets just hold our horses here. We've only just got a second game at Wembley, let's see how that goes for another couple of seasons. Then let's see three. Give the sport time to get to where it needs to be to support a potential franchise. Then work out the main logistics of a team in London. We're pretty grateful for regular season games in the first place, so let's not ruin a good thing.

I'm on Twitter, find me @BrendanAnnely

Brendan Annely 6/05/2013 08:12:00 AM Edit
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