As we approach the final of this season’s four NFL London games I wanted to take a look at the current situation, the plusses and minuses of each stadium, and where things might go from here in 2020 and beyond.
Wembley vs Tottenham vs Twickenham
I was lucky enough this year to attend two games: Raiders vs Bears (the inaugural game at Tottenham) and the Bengals vs Rams at Wembley last weekend. I’ve also experienced the NFL games at Twickenham back in 2016 and 2017.
Tottenham’s new stadium is awe-inspiring. The unique design with the retractable grass pitch to reveal the NFL astroturf is remarkable, and the lines of sight from your seats are excellent. Although in a 60,000 seater stadium you feel really close to the action. As mentioned by the players and the NFL bandwagon coming across the pond – this is as close to a legit NFL stadium as we will ever get. For me it knocks Wembley down a few pegs – I’ve always found Wembley a bit soulless. The fans on Sunday tried their best to create an atmosphere but it was no match for Wembley. However.
There are two things holding Tottenham back at the moment – transport links and the lack of a tailgate. I did not realise until travelling to the stadium just how out of the way it is. Only one stadium close by (White Hart Lane) which is an overground station, and a 20 minute walk to any other station. Not sure what anyone can do about this but getting away from Wembley was much smoother than from Tottenham. The lack of a tailgate meant that the pre-game experience at Wembley was far superior – Wembley BoxPark had an amazing atmosphere and the tailgate was extensive (but you needed to get there way early to take advantage of all that was on offer).
I’d like to think that Twickenham might come back into the mix at some point as that also had an excellent pre-game setup with the tailgate. Personally I found transport fine both times, driving down with plenty of parking options but i know others found it more difficult than Wembley.
Fixtures are important
The Raiders vs Bears game has gone straight in as one of the best NFL London match ups but last Sunday I think everyone had an inkling what would happen between the Bengals and Rams. Cincinnati put up a better than expected showing gaining yards on the ground first half to help keep pace with a Rams offense which was shredding the Bengals coverage. The Rams pulled away by two scores and when the Bengals turned the ball over on downs inside the red zone with 5 minutes to go in the 4th quarter Wembley started to empty pretty quick.
There is still one team that has not travelled to London and it is about time we saw the Green Bay Packers cross the pond. In addition around half of the league teams have only been over in the UK once. It will be interesting to see how the fixtures pan out for 2020 – particularly with several young dynamic players who the fans would love to see (e.g. Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens). But how many games will we see?
2020 and beyond
Next year is the final year of the current arrangement with Wembley and with the Jacksonville Jaguars. It feels as though that could be a turning point for the arrangement and for any potential London franchise. Let’s start there. In my view I don’t think that will happen. The sheer logistics of hosting a franchise on this side of the atlantic including which stadium would be ‘home’ are a huge barrier. I think the reality of a franchise where then the fans have to live with the successes and failures of one team might bite hard 2-3 years down the line. The variety of teams coming to London is one of the unique features of the current arrangement and I think it is best that continues.
The demand to watch NFL games live is there, ticket sales demonstrate this – but i would note that tickets became available in the run up to Wembley games suggesting that 90,000 is perhaps too high a bar. I think Tottenham at around 60,000 will sell out time and time again. The 10-year deal with Tottenham will run through the 2020s and should guarantee two NFL London games for the next decade. Whether Wembley renew their arrangement or if Twickenham or another stadium (Cardiff, Croke Park Dublin or Murrayfield Edinburgh) comes into the mix.
I think all UK-based NFL fans will have a keen eye on and statements coming out about 2020 and more importantly 2021 onwards.
Finally – trades…
Yawn. The trade deadline has now passed, did anyone notice? Some teams got in early and made important moves to solidify runs to the playoffs (Jalen Ramsey to the Rams for $$$, Mo Sanu to the Patriots and Emmanuel Sanders to 49ers were the highlights). After that there seemed to be two categories – teams desperately trying to offload guys to pick up some scraps in terms of lower round picks (e.g. Giants had a yard sale no-one turned up to) whereas others tried to hold teams for a king’s ransom in order to pick up key pieces to their puzzle – and by doing so a number of bridges have been burned (Jamal Adams and the Jets anyone). At least it is now done and we can get back to concentrating on the match ups for next week. And so…
Look ahead to week 9 match ups – my 4 to watch
It is a recurring theme that I manage .500 most weeks, could this be the breakthrough week? Probably not!
Houston Texans @ Jacksonville Jaguars – this is a treat for UK fans. Deshaun Watson vs Gardner Minshew. Much as I love Minshew I think Watson is leading the Texans on a charge. Texans by 7
Minnesota Vikings @ Kansas City Chiefs – assuming Pat Mahomes does not make a miraculous recovery to suit up I think Minnesota will have too much for Kansas. Vikings by 4
Detroit Lions @ Oakland Raiders – both teams sitting around the .500 level and both are franchises heading in a positive direction. I think Matt Stafford is hugely underrated and he will steer Detroit to another win here, Lions by 7
New England Patriots @ Baltimore Ravens – yes the Pats are unbeaten and yes you can only beat the team in front of you but this is their first real test and Lamar Jackson has a chance to prove his class against the (until now) all conquering Pats defense. One of the games of the season right here, Ravens by 3
Same time next week!