On February 3rd, Super Bowl LIII took place in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium of Atlanta, Georgia. The event saw Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots defeat the Los Angeles Rams in a game that was watched by over 100 million viewers in the U.S. alone.
Sky Sports holds the licence to show live NFL games in the UK and Ireland and they’ve been enjoying an upward curve in their viewership figures in recent years.
With Eleven Sports’ capture of Serie A and La Liga rights last summer, Sky Sports has turned its focus to NFL coverage on Sunday nights while also showing late night games on Saturdays, Mondays and Thursdays.
It’s a change which seems to have worked well for Sky Sports with interest in the UK growing well. The potential audience they can reach is also far greater due to the lack of La Liga and Serie A coverage on mainstream channels.
In 2005, the NFL held its first regular season game outside of the USA when they took their sport to Mexico for what was branded simply as Futbol Americano. Two years later, the NFL made its way across the Atlantic Ocean and held its first match in the UK in October 2007. The New York Giants beat the Miami Dolphins 13-10 at Wembley Stadium and the NFL International Series was born. This title refers to regular-season NFL games which are hosted either in Mexico or the UK.
The NFL did create the NFL Europe league which ran from 1991 until ceasing in 2007. This European American Football league had been created and funded wholly by the NFL with the aim of developing young squad members in a competitive environment. With the disbandment of NFL Europa (as it was renamed in its final year), the NFL announced its intention to have a “stronger international focus on regular-season games outside the United States.”
Now, 12 years later, there is no talk of restarting a professional American Football league in Europe. However, the subject of a London-based NFL franchise has reared its head over the last 18 months.
There has been an NFL regular-season fixture played in London every year since 2007. This increased to two games in 2013 and there have been at least three fixtures played in London each season since 2014.
In 2019, London is already scheduled to host four NFL regular-season encounters and there will be another match played in Mexico City.
It’s believed the NFL is aiming to host eight games per season in London every year. With these plans and the growing popularity of the sport in the UK, it’s only natural that people have considered the possibility of an NFL team based permanently in London.
With Los Angeles now having its own franchise, the Los Angeles Rams (who are playing in the upcoming Super Bowl), maybe the NFL can now turn its attention to ‘selling’ London as a franchise destination.
Every year the interest levels for the NFL fixtures in London are gauged as decisions are being made behind the scenes to see if a London-based NFL team would be sustainable.
Importantly, it would not be a newly-formed team that would set up in England’s capital city but instead would involve the moving of an existing franchise. This is where the complications lie.
London’s NFL games regularly sell out. There doesn’t seem to be a problem with the English fans’ enthusiasm for the sport. If an owner agreed to the move and wanted to bring his franchise to the UK then it seems the framework is there to sustain such a move.
Premier League team, Tottenham Hotspur, are about to move into their new stadium in London and, notably, the NFL is an official partner with the new arena set to become the dedicated home to American Football in the UK.
It took almost two decades of ‘ifs, buts and maybes’ before a team moved its location to Los Angeles. Now the LA Rams, who came up short against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII while the Los Angeles Chargers have also made the Southern Californian city their home.
London seems to have a great fanbase in place, ever-improving stadium options and greatly accessible options for travel to and from games, both locally and internationally. Mark Waller, the NFL’s executive vice-president of international, feels the UK could have a full-time NFL team by 2022.
There are, of course, time-zone issues which could prove a logistical headache with London five hours ahead of New York and eight hours ahead of Los Angeles. But Waller feels that a possible solution to this would be for the UK-based team to have two facilities – one in London and one in the southeast of the US. The US base would be used as a midway point, a halfway house if you will, for the UK team and it’s hoped it would help with a lot of operational issues.
As you can gather, these ideas are still very much in their infancy but once a genuinely interested franchise owner shows a passion for a move to London, the wheels will begin to turn very quickly. Just like they did for Los Angeles.