Earlier this year, football fans across the world categorically turned down propositions from major European clubs to start a European Super League. The proposed league successfully wooed 15 clubs to sign on with 12 as founding members.
Though league executives and team owners were happy to land another revenue stream, fans weren’t pleased by the attempted money grab. Players, too, spoke out against the ESL. Not only did they fear more fixture congestion, but they wanted to play football for the sake of fans—not to draw more cash from them.
Within weeks, the ESL was dropped, with threats from FIFA following teams and players. Many were pleased by the league’s quick end, as they saw the ESL as an Americanized version of sports that put profit above the spirit of competition.
Still, it looks like Europeans might not be out of the doghouse yet—especially England. As the Premier League grapples with over-the-top owners with steep pockets (and foreign interests), the US’s NFL is looking at a move into London. Despite the fact that American football has a significantly smaller following outside of the US, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell seems determined to make the jump abroad.
After all, American fans fill up stadiums with season tickets and wager on NFL weekly picks as the regular season approaches playoffs each year. Despite minimal interest abroad, the NFL’s Super Bowl Championship game regularly draws in over 100 million viewers and attracts billions in bets. Clearly, the league is a powerhouse… but what would a franchise look like in London, England?
A Question of Billions
The biggest obstacle isn’t necessarily a lack of fans in London. Instead, the NFL needs to find an investor who’s willing to pour billions into an expansion or relocation to London. Not only is the city one of the most expensive in the world, but establishing the infrastructure and staff needed to run a winning franchise would cost hundreds of millions.
The future of a potential London franchise relies on incredibly deep pockets—as well as a penchant for business. Aside from establishing a new team in London, a team owner would also need to build a new fanbase, potentially from sports fans who aren’t even interested in supporting an American football team long-term.
Red Tape Warnings
Aside from the practical challenges associated with the funding and building a successful NFL team abroad, potential owners would also face difficulties in navigating local laws, especially those related to taxation. There are huge differences in UK and US law, especially in relation to capital markets like sports franchises.
American owners aren’t likely going to be enticed by much higher tax rates, as well as other legal conditions related to player contracts, salaries, and international trading rights. Despite these challenges, Goodell has repeatedly announced his plans to start a London team before 2025.
The plan is to use London as a home base in order to expand the NFL into European markets. Given suspicion related to the ESL and its Americanized business plan, there may be more than a little suspicion from existing sports fans.
Building on International Series Interest
As mentioned above, one of the biggest hurdles for an NFL move abroad is building a fanbase. However, the NFL has already sought to do this with an International Series, which sees the league host exhibition matches in London and Mexico City.
Despite uncertainty around a full-time fanbase that would support an NFL team season in and season out, the International Series has seen repeated success. Local sports fans have filled up stadiums like Wembley and Estadio Azteca, respectively. Leveraging this interest into an actual fanbase may not be as difficult as anticipated.
However, a London franchise would need to meet new fans halfway; season tickets would need to be significantly lower than in other markets, and executives would need to put on events in order to familiarize the team with its new city and vice versa.