The NFL’s Folly in London

Even historic venues like Wembley Stadium are unable to inject excitement into the NFL in London. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Originally published in The Fordham Ram on October 28, 2015.

This Sunday, the Buffalo Bills played the Jacksonville Jaguars, and almost no one cared. In fact, less people may have cared than usual, which is really saying a lot. And why, you ask? Because the game was played in London at 9:30 in the morning E.S.T., on top of being almost exclusively streamed on Yahoo. And the NFL just extended their contract with Wembley Stadium through 2020 for two NFL games a year, because apparently people want more of these games.
However, prior experience shows otherwise. The NFL’s foray into Europe first started in 1991, and there was an NFL league entirely within Europe by 1995, consisting of six teams, though it struggled to draw much interest. The simple fact was, there was not enough interest in American football in Europe. I still distinctly remember the NFL Europe teams in Madden 2003 and how abysmal their ratings were. NFL Europe disbanded in 2007, with many teams folding and being replaced along the way.
I mean, NFL Europe wasn’t totally worthless. Kurt Warner played there in 1998, when NFL Europe served as a sort of developmental league. This was in between his time as an Arena Football league All-Pro and true NFL quarterback. And Jake Delhomme (who was Warner’s backup in ’98) won the league’s championship in 1999. The list of actual Europeans who played in NFL Europe and then transitioned to the NFL consists of just a few players who played in a handful of preseason games, like Rob Hart, known for kicking his field goals barefoot.
The only other potentially notable factoid about NFL Europe is the story of Björn Werner. Werner grew up in Berlin, right around the fading of NFL Europe. However, he came to love the game, eventually enrolling as an exchange student in a Connecticut high school. After college at FSU, he was drafted in the first round by the Indianapolis Colts. However, his career hasn’t gone the way the Colts would have hoped, amassing only 73 tackles and 6.5 sacks since 2013.
So considering the general failure of NFL Europe, why does the NFL still want to establish in Europe? The obvious answer is money. The NFL can only grow by capturing new fans, and there’s almost no one left in the United States outside of some babies, so naturally the NFL has to look outside its borders. The thing is, it seems American football is the most stereotypical American thing in existence, and will never come close to replacing soccer in Europe.
The other problem is the logical continuation of games played in London is a permanent team based in London, which has its own flaws. First, like I mentioned before, the problems with establishing a consistent fan base are real and proven. Second, the travel would be unbearable both when the London team is on the road and when the teams go to them. There is almost no chance that players would want to play in another continent across the Atlantic Ocean.
Essentially, I see the games remaining what they are: a semi-interesting novelty that are actually kind of inconvenient. They just serve as a reminder of those terrible teams you avoided in Madden 2003.

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