NFL Teams Moving To London?

londonI read today that there is a rumor that the Los Angeles Chargers are considering a move to London.

So what’s up with the National Football League (NFL) and a London-based team?

Probably nothing until the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is done and it is very unlikely that the Chargers are moving to England with the new $5 Billion Stadium being built in Los Angeles which is set to be the home of both the Rams and Chargers in a 20-year lease agreement.

The last talk of an NFL team possibly moving to London was the Jacksonville Jaguars.  I always thought that the Jaguars would be a pretty good bet to move to London if any existing NFL team had thoughts of relocating.

While the NFL has played regular season games in London for many years, it is possible to put a permanent team there but there are some obstacles.

It helps that the NFL is a sport that only plays one game per week but travel will still be demanding on players to travel to/from London.  One way to help with that would be to add another bye week in each team’s schedule.  The biggest obstacle for a team in London would be financial.  A London franchise would have some issues matching the dollar in paying player salaries.  Currently, the pound equals $1.28 U.S. dollars.  A owner would need some deep pockets to keep a London team from being a financial drain on the league.

Instead of an NFL team based in London, I would propose that the NFL establish an European league with teams not only in London but in other countries where American Football is popular such as Germany, Italy and France.  The NFL attempted a summer, developmental league years ago when they formed the World League of American Football/NFL-Europe but it was never able to gain any success as an NFL minor league.  Why not make a European league an equal extension of the NFL and have some inter-league games?  The leagues would be under the NFL but separate entities.  While it would be interesting to have a “World” championship between the two leagues, it might be better to replace the Pro Bowl with a game between NFL and Europe stars.

Personally, I’m not a fan of NFL teams playing games in London.  That takes away one team’s home game during the season.  I think the NFL is dragging their feet in doing something to capitalize on expanding the NFL into Europe – not just London.  In a recent poll by American Football International, there are more NFL fans in Germany than England.  In their poll, Mexico leads all countries with NFL fans outside of the U.S.  It would seem that an NFL team in Mexico would make a lot more sense logistically.  The NFL needs to take advantage of their global exposure.  While the NFL isn’t as popular as the rest of the world’s version of football (soccer), they have the opportunity to go global.

In the early 1970s, the National Football League (NFL) was already looking to promote its product abroad with plans for the Intercontinental Football League. The league had sent players to tour American military bases and hospitals during the Vietnam war. On May 27, 1972, forty-two NFL players (including Dan Pastorini, Bob Hayes, Jim Kiick, Jan Stenerud, Alan Page, Matt Snell and Merlin Olsen) had demonstrated “le rugby Americain” before 8,000 in Paris. NFL Bleu beat NFL Rouge that day, 16-6, in a game that closely followed a script. Two years later, interest in overseas play was revived.

At the 1974 press conference at NFL headquarters in New York, the teams of the IFL were announced. The IFL was to be divided into two divisions of three teams each. The likely organization would have been for the teams from German speaking nations (Munich, West Berlin and Vienna) to be in one group, and the southern teams (Barcelona, Rome and Istanbul) in another.

The NFL scrapped plans for the league because they still did not feel that Europe was ready for American football as well as their own issues with an NFL player’s strike looming.

Here were the proposed teams planned for the league:

  • Munich Lions (Germany)
  • Vienna Lipizzaners (Austria)
  • Berlin Bears (Germany)
  • Rome Gladiators (Italy)
  • Barcelona Almogovares (Spain)
  • Istanbul Conquerors (Turkey)
  • Paris Lafayettes (France)
  • Copenhagen Vikings (Denmark)
  • Rotterdam Flying Dutchmen (Netherlands)
  • Milan Centurions (Italy)

The World League of American Football was founded in 1989 to serve as a type of spring league. Seven of the ten teams were based in North America, and the other three in Europe. This format lasted for two seasons, with no league in 1993–94.

The WLAF returned in 1995 with six teams, all in Europe, and in 1998 the league was rebranded as the NFL Europe.

The league’s squads were predominantly assigned by NFL teams, who wanted these younger, developmental players to get additional game experience and coaching. The NFL assumed the expenses of players and coaches living in Europe. The European six-team format was maintained for 12 seasons, from 1995 to 2008, but by 2008 five teams were based in Germany. Making a reported $30 million loss per season, and with teams such as the inaugural league champion London Monarchs having gone defunct, on 29 June 2008, the NFL announced the end of the league.

The failure of the WLAF/NFL Europe also makes the NFL tentative of placing any NFL-based teams in London or other European cities. I don’t expect the Chargers or Jaguars to make the move across the pond in the near future.

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