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Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Intensifying Love Affair Between London and the NFL

On Oct. 4, the New York Jets beat their divisional rival Miami Dolphins 27-14, putting their record through four games at 3-1 for the first time since 2010. However, the game was significant for another reason, as it was played 4,000 miles away at Wembley Stadium in London, England.

Last week’s Jets-Dolphins matchup was the first of three games scheduled to take place in London this year, with a battle between the Bills and Jaguars set for Week 7, and a meeting between the Lions and Chiefs slated for Week 8. The three games are part of a deal the NFL signed with London back in 2007 known as the “International Series.” From 2007 to present day, London has hosted a total of 11 regular season games, with the hope that the NFL’s popularity could grow outside of the U.S.

To put it simply, the idea worked. The NFL’s popularity in the UK has skyrocketed from where it stood eight years ago. American football has gone from the 18th most watched sport in England in 2007 to the 6th most watched sport in 2014. To add on to that, the three “International Series” games played in 2014 generated $32 million in ticket sales. With the increase in popularity, there also have come questions. What is the future of this budding romance? Could an NFL team one day play in London full time?

The answers to these questions are extremely layered and full of unknowns. What we know for sure is that the NFL seriously wants a team located overseas. Commissioner Roger Goodell has publicly stated that his goal is to grow NFL revenue to $25 billion by 2027. The NFL is currently generating about $9.5 billion, meaning an international expansion is the only way Goodell could meet his goal. So why the UK? Because while the NFL is extremely eager to put a team overseas, London officials are just as eager to receive one.

A study done by Deloitte in 2014 projected that an NFL team would bring $255 million a year to Britain’s economy. Tottenham, a city in northern London, is in the process of building a new stadium for its English Premier League soccer team that is expected to open in 2018. Once built, the NFL has agreed to have the new stadium replace Wembley as a host for games over the next ten seasons. Tottenham’s mayor Boris Johnson recently stated that he is working hard on a deal to bring a team to the UK, creating speculation that the new stadium could one day be a permanent home for a franchise.

So it is clear that both sides want to make this thing happen. The question simply is if it can. The NFL seems to think so. Mark Waller, the league’s international chief marketing officer, recently stated he expects a team to be in London by 2022. However, London and the NFL will need to get through a significant roadblock in order to reach their goal: the players union. Any decision made by the league to locate a team overseas will have to be collectively bargained with the union, meaning they hold all the power.

The players union should have serious concerns over a team moving to London. Taxes for example, are higher in the UK then in the United States. Aaron Rodgers, the NFL’s highest paid player, would make $3.3 million less over the next five seasons playing in London than he would playing in Green Bay. Another question arises as to how the players would be paid. The American dollar is worth 50% more than the British pound. Would players be paid in American currency or British? How would the NFL manage the conversion rate? Questions come up about the players’ personal lives as well. Should the league really send a kid in his early twenties to live in a foreign country? What if a player has a spouse and/or children?

These are issues that I feel will ultimately keep the NFL from ever placing a team in London, or anywhere overseas for that matter. The NFL Players Union fights for its players harder than any other sport in the country, and its relationship with the NFL is on shakier ground than ever before. If the NFL wants to subject a group of players to these issues, the league better develop solutions for them as well. With that being said, no one knows what the future holds. Anything can happen when it comes to the National Football League. We will simply have to wait and see.

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