A permanent residence? Fans weigh in on potential London NFL franchise
UK fans of the NFL flocked to North London for the two 2021 London Games this month — but could the capital city soon become a permanent home to an NFL franchise?
Typically awash with the white of Spurs, the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was transformed into a rainbow sea of jerseys as the Atlanta Falcons beat the New York Jets 27-20 last week, before the Jacksonville Jaguars clinched a dramatic last-second victory to beat the Miami Dolphins 23-20 on Sunday.
Matthew Wright’s 53-yard field goal on the game’s final play ended a 20-game losing streak for the Jaguars, denying overtime and sending the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium crowd into raptures following the thrilling conclusion of an entertaining contest.
Wright’s heroics were made all the more remarkable by the fact that the Jaguars arrived in London as the only team in the NFL not to have converted a field goal this season.
Now into its 14th year of hosting duties since the first International Series game at Wembley Stadium in 2007, London has long been touted as a potential residence for a first non-US franchise — either via the relocation of an established franchise or as a new expansion team.
Today’s victorious home team, the Jaguars — whose owner Shahid Khan has invested interest in London as owner of Fulham Football Club — have committed to playing one overseas game a year as the designated “home” team and have subsequently been tipped as most likely to make a move across the Atlantic.
Ultimately, the decision will rest with the powers that be, but nobody with a ticket to the London Games over the last two weekends can doubt the size of the UK’s NFL appetite.
But what do UK football lovers think about a potential London franchise? CNN Sport spoke to fans to find out.
Logistics, logistics, logistics — there was a running theme in the responses.
“For new fans — maybe. For current fans — absolutely not,” said Cleveland Browns fan Tom Middleton when asked about the prospect of a London franchise.
“Logistically I can’t see it being feasible due to constant travel and having to pack up millions of dollars’ worth of equipment on a week’s notice. One game a year in London or Mexico for four to six teams a year is a job worth doing, merely for exposure.
“Surely a London team would need to get to and from the US and UK every other week? Their fan base could be lacking at both ends — US fans are unlikely to start supporting a new team, let alone a UK team, and many UK fans already have allegiances or do not possess an interest in the sport.
“In my opinion, the formation of an NFL team is going to be harder than any other sport. You’ve already got 53-strong rosters of “first team players”, but add in the need for practice squads, qualified and experienced coaches, facilities — it is a huge ask.”
Just this week, the NFL reiterated its stance on promoting its global appeal, announcing it was in discussions with three German cities — Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich — about hosting regular season games.
“I really want it to be a good idea, but there are logistical issues,” said Andrew Gamble, founder of NBA and NFL podcast the British Playbook, outside of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
“I think support is promising but I’m concerned about whether the novelty will wear off, particularly as a London team would not be competitive for the first few seasons — even with compensatory draft picks,” he added.
England sports fanbases are notorious for their diehard loyalty to their teams — an unconditional allegiance no better illustrated than via Gamble and Middleton, two “long-suffering” Arsenal fans.
A glance around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and its technicolor array of jerseys this weekend would suggest many UK fans have already sworn their NFL loyalties; would a new “local” team tempt them to switch sides?
“Absolutely not,” Middleton said.
“I am fully invested in the Browns and their players — I cannot imagine the idea of a new team wanting me to change allegiance from the last 4-5 years of being involved in the sport.
“I feel as though my commitment to the NFL team is only slightly less strong than my allegiance to Arsenal, whom I have supported my entire life.
“However, I would say the idea of a London NFL team reminds me of Red Bull Leipzig in the Bundesliga — their formation generated an incredible amount of backlash and disgust but you look now at their games with full attendance and they’ve clearly formed a fan base out of their success.
“Whether or not a London team can replicate that in the NFL will be interesting.”
Gamble was more welcoming, but likewise said he would never divert from his first love.
“I would absolutely support a London team, get season ticket, the works — but if they play the Patriots, I know who I’m backing,” he said.