Up until 24 hours ago this was going to be a review of the issues arising from the week 9 games. Then article appeared in the Athletic which suggested the NFL and the LA Chargers had discussed the possibility of moving the franchise to London. Social media lit up. The latest, as I type, is Chargers owner, Dean Spanos stating “We’re not going anywhere” (with more colourful language). Let’s look at what has happened here and the longer term picture over any possible London franchise.
Timing is everything
It is no accident that the Athletic produced this article following another successful round of NFL London games which were all well attended and after noticeable games in America which have been poorly attended by home fans – the recent Packers invasion of the Chargers match up as an example.
Reading the article it felt as though this was a kite-flying exercise, designed as much as anything to cause debate on the issue to gauge reaction. Naturally the UK perspective from the fanbase has been largely positive with a broad sense that this would be welcomed. The counter point of view expressed from Dean Spanos is about as definitive as you can get. Getting past the initial emotional reactions what are the barriers and the reality of moving a franchise to the UK.
Would they actually be a true UK franchise?
Follow the money. An NFL franchise is a massive operation. Once you move past the 53 player roster you are looking in the region of 200 employees. It is not solely about gameday; think about what goes alongside the ‘on the field’ time. Having this across the atlantic for 1 of the 32 franchises is unlikely to work. I do not think a model where everything moves “lock, stock” to London. I would suggest you end up in a situation where the franchise remains based in America, probably on the East coast, with the playing squad travelling to London for home games. The other main reason for this – tax. The tax systems for the two countries are so different there is no way the players and staff are going to align with living in the UK under UK tax laws.
Who would it be?
Let’s put this marker down. It would not be a particularly successful franchise. It would not be a franchise which is pulling in the crowds. The LA Chargers have been mentioned because their average attendance sits way last at 25,385. Next comes Cincinnati (46,487) then Oakland (moving to Vegas) and Tampa Bay (55,523). The Jacksonville Jaguars have a recent history of playing in London but they make 60,000 fans in the US.
After that, nobody else would dream of moving. Therefore UK fans would be faced with the prospect of a weak franchise coming across – would the fans stick with them, or would they be coming to support the 8 opponents visiting the London team (in which case the franchise is no better supported than where they currently sit).
Attendances at the NFL London games were, by official figures, strong but if you looked around Wembley over the last 2 weeks there were plenty of empty seats. The franchise could not be based at Wembley and guarantee great attendances. And if the performances were then poor my fear would be that 2-3 years in we find this is not working and the talk begins of when do they return to America?
Collective Bargaining Issues
The current 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) runs until the end of the 2020 season. Therefore, discussions will begin soon and this article may be another example floating an idea to see what the reaction was – the other is the idea of additional games in the regular season. A move to a London franchise would have to be part of the CBA and would require the agreement with the NFLPA. Given the increased focus on the health and well-being of players I doubt the additional travel demands of more teams travelling the atlantic would be an easy sell. At the moment there is the arrangement of the bye week following the London game. How would this work with the 8 opponents and with the London franchise itself (even if they only travelled to UK for their home games).
In addition, how high is this on the NFL’s agenda? I think there are bigger priorities such as the 17th game or even 18th game. I think they will also look to take the game to other countries past the current Mexico and UK games. The game is now massive in the UK, granted, but we should not think that we are the only country interested in hosting NFL games. I do think the NFL need to look at attendances for some of the struggling franchises, and I think the move to 2 Los Angeles teams is saturation (it will always be the San Diego Chargers to me).
If it ain’t broke
The current NFL London series of games can be considered a great success. Ticket sales are strong (there are still issues around touting and secondary selling – a whole other article there) and the games have a carnival feel with jerseys from all 32 teams on display. It is the novelty of these one-off games which helps the interest. What could be looked at is moving when these games happen in the season – at present they happen early on (weeks 5-9) when there is little really at stake. It would be great to see more of a spread with games scheduled more down the stretch when a place in the playoffs may be at stake.
That’s my take on it, let’s see what happens!
Look ahead to week 10 match ups – my 4 to watch
Once again at .500 last week. One of these weeks I’ll nail it! Where to go this week?
Minnesota Vikings @ Dallas Cowboys – some big games this week between playoff hopefuls. Both of these teams need to keep the hammer down and the Cowboys stuttered before seeing off NYG whereas Minnesota went toe-to-toe but lost to a Mahomes-less KC. Vikings by 4
Seattle Seahawks @ 49ers – San Francisco are the last unbeaten team coming off a bye but Russell Wilson is pretty much invincible week after week. So hard to stay unbeaten in this league, you slip up somewhere. Seattle by 3
Carolina Panthers @ Green Bay Packers – Panthers were on fire last week versus Titans whereas Packers laid an egg against the Chargers. McCaffrey could torch the Packers run-D and Aaron Rodgers will be pumped up to get back to winning ways. tough to call. Packers by 6
LA Rams @ Pittsburgh Steelers – Sneaky Steelers are back up to .500 and the Rams want to keep pressure on Seattle and 49ers. Think the Steelers will push LA but if the Rams start how they did in London they will take it. Rams by 7
Same time next week!