NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 18: Brian Urlacher #54 and Lance Briggs #55 of the Chicago Bears walk off the field after being defeated 30-13 by the New Orleans Saints at the Louisiana Superdome on September 18, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Next week marks the NFL’s annual London game, featuring the Bears and Bucs. And I think Jay Cutler’s sulkitude will help him blend in seamlessly with the disaffected British masses. The London game always triggers a new wave of daydreaming about an NFL team one day making London a permanent home, particularly the Bucs, who are owned by the same oddly bearded gent who owns Manchester United.
It’s always fun to think about the NFL or the NBA reaching across an ocean and planting a franchise in Europe or Asia or someplace exotic. You hear the word “global” a lot from the likes of David Stern and Roger Goodell, and with good reason: There’s money to be had in international markets, particularly thriving markets like China. It’s easy to envision a future where the NFL has teams in London, Shanghai, and Dubai, and you can jet out to games in your flying car if you feel so inclined.
But the hard truth is that the NFL will NEVER field a team outside of North America. Here are some reasons why:
1. Markets don’t really matter anymore
Do you care if the Jaguars play in Jacksonville? Of course you don’t. All you care about is if MJD can get you 20 fantasy points this weekend. The advent of TV has allowed leagues to grow globally without physically moving a team abroad. The English Premiere League has grown in popularity here in America without fielding a team here, and TV is the reason why. The TV experience is so good that the live experience no longer measures up. There’s no need for the NFL to go to the trouble of physically moving a team to London when they can keep it at home and still grow their audience.
2. British people don’t like football THAT much
There may be some passionate NFL fans in Europe (Germany in particular), but the enthusiasm to sustain a whole franchise simply isn’t there yet, and may never be. Just as soccer has yet to capture America, football also struggles to gain a mass audience abroad. The one-game model works because it’s a novelty for British people to gawk at. But making it an everyday thing risks inviting apathy. And Brits are quite good at apathy.
3. The players would hate it
Even though NFL teams have the lightest travel schedule of the major sports leagues, you’re gonna have a hard time convincing a free agent to join a London team and move across the Atlantic, with every road trip necessitating a seven-hour flight. And NFL players, to generalize, are not exactly the known for being globe-trotters. You don’t see 50 Dhani Joneses on every roster.
4. Americans would get mad
YOU TOOK OUR JOBS!
So don’t get your hopes up for a London team any time soon. Roger Goodell wants to grow the game, but he knows where the real fertile ground is.