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NFL franchise in the UK: Jags? Bucs? Battle Royale!

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Jason La Canfora, our favorite Draft Twitter Guy Who Ruins Everything, had a pretty good article today regarding the now near-constant rumors circulating that the NFL is blood-drunk on moving a franchise to the UK in the next handful of years, and there's two franchises in Florida that may be the "winner."

Regardless of precisely what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did or didn't say at a conference on Tuesday regarding playing more games in London, make no mistake: Goodell's eyes remain fixed across the Atlantic, and that's not going to change.

A few years back if you had asked me about the likelihood of an NFL franchise in London, I'd have said, sometime in my lifetime, maybe in the next 25 years. Ask me now, and I'd say we'll see football -- American football -- being played on Sundays at Wembley Stadium within the next 10 years (possibly 5 to 7), and, yes, the Jacksonville Jaguars are the team numerous well-connected NFL people have tabbed as the most likely to land there.

For the last year or so, when I have talked to NFL team executives coming out of various owner's meetings, the tone has changed regarding their impression of the league's flirtation with London. It used to be more of an "if" scenario. Now, it's more like "when" we start playing in London. Like, it's only a matter of time. It's been a major initiative at the league office, spearheaded by the commissioner, and the commitment to getting this done seems unwavering.

When Eric Grubman, an executive vice president with the league who is closely involved with the league's International Committee ("They should just call it 'The London Committee," as one club official put it. "That's really what it is.") addresses owners at this meeting, there is a certainty in his voice, folks have told me, a sense that this will happen.

A franchise in London might not quite be impending, but everything the league has done in recent years -- including adding more regular-season games at Wembley and making the Jags annual tenants there for at least one match, er, I mean, game a year -- signals that this is no passing fancy.

After a league meeting last October, during which Grubman provided a more detailed update on the status of the NFL in London, this is what one team executive present in the meeting told me:

"Grubman pretty much flat-out said, 'We want to have a team in London -- our goal is to get a team there and make this happen,'" said one source who was present for the meeting. "It didn't sound like an 'if,' we took it as a 'when.' "

Meanwhile, also via CBS, this time by the Almost a Great Porno Name NFL reporter Pete Prisco, it's the Bucs who may be the inevitable:

Not to shoot holes in what my colleague, Jason La Canfora, wrote today, because he has his rock-solid sources, but I have been told by league sources that Jacksonville is not alone as a potential London team. And Jaguars sources insist the team isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

So why is Jacksonville always the target? Because of the tarps covering seats? That's all anyone ever says. Reality is this: As is, the Jaguars' stadium is still bigger than almost a third of the NFL stadiums in the league. Even with the tarps.

Is it their attendance? They averaged more per game than either Miami or Tampa Bay last year -- the two other Florida franchises -- by a lot. The Jaguars averaged 64,984 fans last season to rank 20th. Tampa Bay was 31st at 55,102 and Miami was 29th at 57,329.

Last time I checked, the Miami and Tampa markets were a lot bigger, and both teams had better records than the 2-14 Jaguars. So, does that make Jacksonville a better football market?

Why not Tampa Bay to London? The Bucs' owners -- the Glazer family -- also own the Manchester United Football Club -- soccer in this country. They know about the market.

Yes, the Jaguars have committed to play a game in London in each of the next four seasons. New owner Shahid Khan is trying to build his team into an international one. That is smart.

But to just automatically assume it will be Jacksonville making a move is foolish. Is it possible? Sure. If they don't win, the fans don't come, and the attendance dips -- of course, it is. But it's no different for Tampa Bay or St. Louis or any other of the franchises that have either stadium or attendance issues.

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The London Buccaneers.

Yeah, that's about the point where I call it quits on them. It's hard enough as it is to watch my team play living 3,000 miles away. Now nearly double that distance? Yeah, I'm done.

I can't see a team in London lasting more than a few seasons anyway. It just doesn't make any real logistical sense. And then what are they gonna do? Move back? Good luck finding fans after that when you're already 31st in attendance.

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I really hope somebody reminds the international committee that its one thing to have a one off game in Wembley every season, particularly in regards to the novelty factor, and another to play a full home slate there.

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The Patriots would be the closest team. London to Boston is about 3300 miles. That just seems way too far. Say the team has two road games in a row, one in Chicago, one in Arizona. Do they fly back to London? Or do they find a temporary home in the states? London is fine for one game a season, but the logistics of a team flying across the pond 16+ times a year seems so unrealistic, it's stupid to even suggest.

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I also don't think it would be viable from a fanbase point of view.

Sure, they sell out 1 or 2 games a season. That is because it is kind of a novelty where the fans are willing to spend a lot of money and travel far and wide to see an NFL game - which I have done. What about when it is a regular occurence, won't the novelty wear off?

What I am sure a lot of people also don't realise is, that 99% of NFL fans in the UK already strongly support a certain team. There are a lot of Raiders and Dolphins fans from when the NFL became a huge hit when it was started to be shown on mainstream TV in the '80s and then also an absolute bucketload of Patriots fans from the resurgence in the '00s. Will all these fans jump ship and back a new team enough for it to succeed financially?

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As much as it would be cool for an American Major Four team to call London home... the idea is also ludicrous. Absolutely ludicrous.

For one thing, they would have to work hard, and I meaning really :censored:ing hard, to establish themselves in the Capital City of the country that's more religiously devoted to the end-all-be-all "glory glory this and that" that is English Football. For the team to be able to work here, you can't just let it become a novelty because people WILL stop caring after the first year. The mentality of the average fan here is that, they'll feign interest because SPORTS, but soon enough they'll stop giving a crap and go right back to our version of Football. Speaking of other versions, you're also more likely to draw attention from the Rugby crowd who will buy tickets and go to the game for the sole purpose of sitting there and comparing it to Rugby, pissing off the other fans around them - which I'm told has happened at the International Series.

Another thing, and this is probably an even bigger issue than above, is travel costs. For the London Whatevers they'll have to blow a tonne of money just so the team can travel abroad to play where, you know, the rest of the friggin' league is based. And then you've gotta consider the other teams that'll be traveling all the way here on a semi-regular basis. I know flights from here to North America tend to be expensive, but bloody hell, it's gotta be at least twice as bad for you guys because of the way the exchange rate works. And speaking of the exchange rate, players on the London Whatevers team will have to be paid in pound sterling. I know the other three leagues already do this having Canadian teams, but the American and Canadian dollar are usually very close. Start paying a team in pound sterling and you'll likely mess up the economy of the NFL.

Thirdly, where are they going to call home exactly? Somehow I don't think people here will take too kindly to a "Rugby For Wimps" team playing in what is essentially the Mecca of British Football. Maybe I'm overthinking it but I feel like something like this would immediately cause an uproar here. And what if it's chosen to host the Superbowl? You're only gonna go ahead and piss a tonne of people off in North America as well.

The London Buccaneers.

Yeah, that's about the point where I call it quits on them. It's hard enough as it is to watch my team play living 3,000 miles away. Now nearly double that distance? Yeah, I'm done.

Try living 5,450 miles from your favourite NHL team.

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...yet we'd better not put an NFL team in Canada/Mexico. That would just be altogether too difficult.

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Has anyone also considered whether Her Majesty's Government is receptive to TV Blackout rules?

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Has anyone also considered whether Her Majesty's Government is receptive to TV Blackout rules?

So far it's working splendidly for the deal the NHL has with Premier Sports :upside:

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The Patriots would be the closest team. London to Boston is about 3300 miles. That just seems way too far. Say the team has two road games in a row, one in Chicago, one in Arizona. Do they fly back to London? Or do they find a temporary home in the states? London is fine for one game a season, but the logistics of a team flying across the pond 16+ times a year seems so unrealistic, it's stupid to even suggest.

Thing is, it's not even all that logical for even one game a season. I've heard several teams suggest that having to fly to London for a game has completely ruined the remainder of their season. I'm a bit hazy on the specifics of it, but I seem to remember the Bucs playing a London game vs either the Pats or Bears a few years ago when they were definitely in the playoff hunt, and they basically lost the remainder of their games afterwards. One of the reasons cited (other than the fact that Raheem Morris was an awful f*****g coach) was the fatigue they dealt with after that game. They also pulled out of the rest of their London games because it hurt their fan base back home (again, this wasn't the only issue) to the point where they dropped from having one of the longest waiting lists in the league for season tickets, to being dead last in attendance. this could be total coincidence, but their dip in fanbase started about the time the London games started. I even think the Bears had issues with fatigue as well. It's hard enough to be a top flight athlete who performs at the top level under normal circumstances. Add the insanity of the travel/time change from London and you've got a potential disaster on your hands. What if [insert possible London team here] stumbles to a 1-5 start? How can you possibly build a fan base in a country that has hardly seen the game when you're throwing out a team that's getting smacked around every week?

I'll even say this. If the NFL is really dead set on moving a team to London, find a club who is aching for a new building and is threatening to move to LA or something. Give them a year in London just to gauge the overall interest, and if it doesn't work, ship em to LA. Even that is a far from perfect solution, but it's better than sticking a team in Europe, finding out it's a total disaster almost immediately, and having them be stuck there for five to ten more seasons.

Sigh, this whole London thing, among other issues, really makes me miss Paul Taglibue.

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I've heard several teams suggest that having to fly to London for a game has completely ruined the remainder of their season.

2007/8:

NFL London: Giants 13 Dolphins 10

Super Bowl: Giants 17 Patriots 14

So it is not always true!

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It's just another excuse teams can use for losing, really.

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A London team will probably happen since Goodell is so obsessed with the idea, but it'll be a legendary failure. He would need to move a successful, winning team there to get any fan support, but instead, he'd move a crap team like the Jaguars or Bills who struggle here, in the biggest country for American football. Just imagine how much worse they'd do in a country that doesn't care about the sport!

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Just imagine how much worse they'd do in a country that doesn't care about the sport!

But-but we DO care about the sport!!!!

...Only when it's the Superbowl or the International Series.

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If it does happen, so far as the team's name is concerned I like wildwing64's suggestion of the London Whatevers. ;)

What I am sure a lot of people also don't realise is, that 99% of NFL fans in the UK already strongly support a certain team. There are a lot of Raiders and Dolphins fans from when the NFL became a huge hit when it was started to be shown on mainstream TV in the '80s and then also an absolute bucketload of Patriots fans from the resurgence in the '00s. Will all these fans jump ship and back a new team enough for it to succeed financially?
Spot on.

I know a number of NFL fans - mostly Brits but a couple of ex-pat Americans - and they all have teams they've supported for years. I've not canvassed opinion but I honestly couldn't see any of them switching allegiances to a new London team simply because it's based in this country - it's just not something supporters tend to do, you stick with your team.

Also, Bucfan56 mentioned the time issue - when would games be played? At the moment, NFL games are shown live on the telly here on Sunday evening. Getting to and from Wembley from anywhere other than the south-east can be horrible enough at the best of times, so if the Whatevers followed suit and played Sunday nights there's going to be a large chunk of potential fans who would struggle to get home post-game, unless they're prepared to take the expense and hassle of stopping over in London and travelling back home the next day.

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There are enough people who care about the sport in this country. There are plenty of people I know and know of through the BAFANL community and forums who are obsessed with the sport. I think a lot of people in the US would be surprised the depth it goes to.

The only issue is that these people are:

a) spread throughout the country.

B) already huge fans of existing NFL teams.

This will not work, however the issue is not that the sport isn't big enough in this country. There will always be a huge TV following for the NFL, so long as it is shown on UK TV. For this reason, bringing a franchise over here does not make much sense. Just keep the regular NFL on TV over here.

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There are enough people who care about the sport in this country. There are plenty of people I know and know of through the BAFANL community and forums who are obsessed with the sport. I think a lot of people in the US would be surprised the depth it goes to.

Of the four North American major pro sports leagues it easily has the largest following. My post above was mainly in reference to the non-fan crowd, the folks who one minute are like "Aaarrr* yeh mate, ah like NFL, innit, and ah know everythin abaat it even though ah just got into it cuza the Superbowl, and ah red abaat it in the Sun, innit" and then once it's all over "Uuurrr, it's just Rugby for wimps mate"

*Taking that way of speaking into account, the Bucs would be the most appropriate team to move here after all.

The only issue is that these people are:

a) spread throughout the country.

B) already huge fans of existing NFL teams.

This will not work, however the issue is not that the sport isn't big enough in this country. There will always be a huge TV following for the NFL, so long as it is shown on UK TV. For this reason, bringing a franchise over here does not make much sense. Just keep the regular NFL on TV over here.

That and the International Series seems to work well enough for the league, a once a year special event that draws from all over. I don't see why they wouldn't want to stick to that. Placing a team in London could potentially kill a lot of interest in the NFL here, especially if the team is a complete flop and is forced to move back to North America in say two years.

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What they should do, is revive the NFL Europe monicker, but instead of it being a minor-league system for the NFL, have it be it's own, independent entity utilizing the NFL name with some support by the main league. That way, the teams can utilize full homegrown talent and not be filtering players in and out of North America. That way, fans can adopt their own team instead of having an already established franchise with history and an existing fanbase shoved into their faces with a "this is your team now, deal with it" kind of mentality

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My question would be...what free agent would want to go there and basically live overseas? NFL Europe was different because these were guys were fighting for a chance to get into the NFL. Could you honestly see RGIII or Andrew Luck seriously considering the London Buccaneers as his new team? I can't.

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Shouldn't they be thinking about putting a team in LA before London?

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