The “INFL”? International American Football is back
Well it’s that time of year again on the football calendar: The NFL International series is almost upon us. Now in its 11th season, this year’s slate of games in the UK sees a total of 6 teams making the trip across the pond. Historically, the NFL games have been a bit of a snooze fest. Marquee teams and match ups have been few and far between, and yet European fans can’t get enough.
However, this year’s program may actually be somewhat entertaining. The Jaguars, whom the NFL won’t stop trying to foist on London, face off against the reigning Superbowl Champion Eagles. The Jags made it as far as the AFC championship game last year and are slowly shrugging off their label as perennial losers. The Jaguars are locked in for basically every upcoming International Series. While this previously wouldn’t have raised much interest or even a few eyebrows, their recent success has guaranteed a massive increase in their trips to the UK. As for the other games, both the Titans and Chargers have had solid seasons so far, while the Raiders are a loss away from full on panic mode and the Seahawks defense has all but disintegrated.
And with the arrival of the International Series arises the years old debate that every NFL fan this side of the Atlantic has an opinion on: Should there be a Football Franchise in London?
By and large there are two schools of thought on this matter. Those for will argue that both the international series and a possible European team will be a huge boost to the promotion of the NFL to audiences outside of the US. A permanent team in London, presumably based out of Wembley Stadium would allow for a solid fan base to develop around one franchise. The sport of American Football already has a significant market share in those who both play and watch the sport in the UK and Ireland. Our ‘own’ professional football team would surely serve to expand and solidify that market share.
On the flip side, a ‘European’ (Brexit pending) team could be an absolute disaster. Before the Jaguars got hot, the only reason they were being pegged as the franchise that would move here is because they were probably the only team the NFL could convince. And while their recent success has possibly sweetened that deal for UK fans, there are still numerous pitfalls. The time difference is a major one. Americans don’t like to get up early on a Sunday. Nor are UK fans fond of staying up to the wee hours to watch Primetime games that start at 1am. The other glaring factor is the Atlantic Ocean. West Coast teams would have to allow almost a week for travel and acclimatization when coming to play this London franchise. Let’s also not forget that this has happened before, albeit in a slightly different form.
The erstwhile NFL Europe league ran from 1991 to 2007. NFL Europe largely served as a farm system for NFL proper teams and ultimately went bust. But if a franchise is to be supplanted to London, there are probably some lessons to be learned from this predecessor.
The official verdict from Gaelic Gridiron: The NFL International Series is grand as it is in its current format. Don’t feck it up.
I wrote an article about what the NFL needed to understand about European franchises, using the NFLE as an example. You’re welcome to a peek if you like.