The National Football League is becoming more International every season.
Ever since 2007, the NFL has hosted countless games at Wembley Stadium in London. From 2007 to 2012, one game was hosted each year in an effort to grow interest for NFL football in Europe. On broadcasts, you can see fans wearing football jerseys not just for the two teams playing in the game, but teams from around the entire league.
In 2013, the NFL hosted two games in London. The 2014 season and the current 2015 season are featuring three games; and the last London game of this season took place this past Sunday as the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Detroit Lions 45-10.
On Oct. 7, it was announced that through 2020 there will be at least two games held at Wembley stadium each year, but there is talk of playing games in other cities outside of the United States, like Mexico City. As part of the deal, the Jacksonville Jaguars will play as the home team for one of the games in London each year through 2020. The Jaguars have been playing one home game per season in London since the 2013 season.
For years, the discussion of putting an NFL franchise overseas has been talked about amongst NFL owners, but no one really knows whether or not it would work out. Sure, Europeans have shown that they enjoy watching American football, but would placing teams in London or other foreign countries be a good thing or a bad thing, considering basically all NFL players come from American colleges? Would it be a good idea to put them and current NFL players, as well as their families, in a whole new environment? Is that fair?
There are other issues aside from the adjustments players and coaches would have to make. One issue comes from the business side of football. If a team is placed oversees, there is a huge disadvantage with trying to attract potential free agents and draft picks. Let’s use Chicago Bears star running back Matt Forte for example. Forte is going to be a free agent after the 2015 season comes to a close. Hypothetically, let’s say there is a team in London right now. Forte is a guy who has played for a Bears team that has made the playoffs once since they made it to the Super bowl a decade ago. Wouldn’t you say that Forte would much rather sign with a competitive team here in the United States that has a realistic chance of making it to the playoffs for multiple seasons, instead of playing for a team overseas?
Even if the team overseas is competitive, there is a huge disadvantage when it comes to traveling. In an NFL regular season, there are 16 games, and each team plays eight games at home and eight on the road. If a team were located in London, they would have to travel oversees eight times to play any of the 32 teams located in the United States. Currently, when games are played in London the teams participating in the game fly oversees a week early and practice there. If a team was placed in London, the team might have to cut its practice schedule short for weeks when they have away games. They could also practice in the United States in whatever city their game is in, but that is asking a lot out of the players and coaches to constantly adjust their schedule and living arrangements. Plus, it would be a big financial burden on the team as they would spend a ton of money booking hotels and practice facilities for the week.
I want to go back to the Lions and Chiefs game. Sure, both teams are struggling and the Chiefs are now 3-5, but the Chiefs have one of the best home field advantages in the NFL with one of the most passionate fan bases. Why take a home game away from them? So far this season, the Chiefs have the sixth best attendance in the NFL. Last year, they finished seventh overall, even when they missed the playoffs. If I were a Chiefs fan, I would be upset that my team is getting its home field advantage taken away for a game. In a sense, the Chiefs have nine away games and seven home games this season, and the same goes for the Jaguars as well as the Dolphins, who played the Jets at Wembley Stadium a few weeks ago.
The NFL International Series allows the NFL to expand its audience and generate extra revenue for the league. If the NFL wants to expand the series into other cities as well as keep it going in London, then so be it. However, the league should be sure to give up home games for teams that have trouble selling out their home games. The Jaguars are a prime example (no offense, Jaguars fans). As for putting a team over there, I think the NFL should do away with that idea. I get why they want to do it, but when you look at the numerous issues that would come about, I do not think it would be worth the NFL’s trouble. There is a reason why we call it “American Football,” and even though the NFL has enjoyed its experiences with the International Series, maybe the best course of action is to just stay national.