London NFL franchise is a fantasy without the culture to support it

While there's always plenty of talk about a UK-based NFL team when the London games roll around, it's not clear a team would thrive across the Atlantic...


As Wembley Stadium filled with the kind of canned enthusiasm that comes with American sporting events on foreign soil, we had to contend with whispers of a potential NFL franchise again.

There’s few things more tiresome than Sky’s non-stop poking at the concept. Granted they want to increase viewership by plugging this idea, but it raises a fundamental question: would an English franchise actually attract support in England?

Do you ever remember growing up and there was a child who somehow adopted an American accent despite living ten miles from the nearest shop and planted in the middle of bad farmland?

NFL Football – Seattle Seahawks v Oakland Raiders – NFL International Series – Wembley Stadium, London, Britain – October 14, 2018 General view during the national anthem Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs

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This is a bit like that.

You have to buy into the culture to truly appreciate the NFL as very few examine it in its intricacies. People love going to Wembley to see sporting flamboyance turned up to ten. The NFL succeeds here because it’s a brand – not because it’s a sport that everyone appreciates.

Fandom in the US and the UK take different guises. At least, the active supporting aspect of fandom. A connection to a team is usually brought about through exposure or your locality. Given that nobody commutes week in, week out to watch their NFL teams, the most common form of fandom you have is a long-held admiration for a team across the water with very little justification behind it.

So a switch to a newly-founded UK-based franchise is unlikely because the associated branding and cultural stamp is so strong. The majority of people who want to attend NFL games in the British Isles and broader European catchment area do so because they’re linked to teams they’ve supported for years.

NFL Football – Seattle Seahawks v Oakland Raiders – NFL International Series – Wembley Stadium, London, Britain – October 14, 2018 Oakland Raiders fan during the match Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs

Three games at Wembley sell out now because there’s just three games  a year. There is absolutely no guarantee it works with eight regular season home games for the same team.

And to bring the Jacksonville Jaguars over here full-time would be a catastrophe. Forgetting the clearly problematic logistics of the situation, a losing season would result in a major attendance drop-off from the previous year – and even then there’s no guarantee it would have been a lofty figure in the first place.

In order to properly embed NFL culture into grassroots sporting psyche on this side of the Atlantic, it needs to be played, taught, implemented and budgeted for within the British sporting system.

Placing a foreign concept into a different country and expecting it to stick simply won’t suffice.

You have to bypass a generation whose loyalty within the league is already compromised. Would a potential investor be happy to take that hit for the bones of two decades just to get something off the ground that offers little upside and significantly less financial security than a franchise in the US would?

While the majority of NFL fans in the UK and Ireland adore it, going to games regularly isn’t viable. The atmosphere that carries from US-based customs doesn’t translate to hardcore fandom like football does here – it would have to have historical relevance or a social niche for people to cling to.

NFL Football – Seattle Seahawks v Oakland Raiders – NFL International Series – Wembley Stadium, London, Britain – October 14, 2018 Oakland Raiders’ Rashaan Melvin and Derrick Johnson pray before the game Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs

There would have to be London-based identity associated with this team – alienating Irish people and the majority of the north of England, all of Scotland and all of Wales. The alternative is to bring 53 players wrapped in US-laden stereotypes to England and expect people to relate.

Except nobody liked the chap with the fake American accent in school.

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What do you think?