With another round of international series matches now behind us, a familiar question has once again come to the fore. One that involves London and whether or not it could host an NFL franchise permanently.
A question that is yet to be answered and will likely be asked until England’s capital city finally joins the NFL party. Because with the first of this series of London outings in 2007, a European outpost has long been on the lips of supporters on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Of the 33 previous international series matches held in London, more than 2.5m supporters have entered through the turnstiles of either Wembley, Twickenham, or Tottenham’s new stadium. A figure showing the demand for a gridiron team in the United Kingdom.
To bring that claim into further context, we can see the average attendance per stadium:
|% Of Capacity
|Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Not only are three stadia seeing plenty of bums on seats, but they are also almost selling out in each. Wembley averages 97.38% of its capacity for NFL matches, Twickenham gets as high as 98.71% and Tottenham only just brings up the rear at 96.42%.
Three percentage figures largely reinforce demand in terms of ticket sales. However, there must be a small caveat that is attached to this. One asks whether demand would start to fade if a franchise was permanently based in London.
Ultimately, it is one of those questions that could not be answered until such a move was made from over the pond. With that said, there is perhaps a notion that there is still an element of novelty factor attached to the international series visits.
Not novelty in terms of length of time. 15 years of near-annual visits (bar the COVID-19 era) are a testament to the fact that demand can be matched with longevity. More the novelty that comes with increased frequency.
Nine games a season in London?
If the NFL were to rock up in London, then you could have as many as nine regular-season outings to attend. At present, the most any ardent supporter in the capital can watch per year is three, and the likelihood is that they are simply watching one.
Especially when considering the expense of watching this version of football. For the 2022 series, ticket prices started as cheap as £30 but went as high as £175. Add a hospitality ticket between £260 and £899, and things are beginning to get rather expensive.
Whether that expense could be covered nine times in just a handful of months is the main crux of the argument. Admittedly season ticket packages would likely be on offer to drive the costs down slightly but not by a great deal.
This means the semi-regular NFL matches in London are treated more as an event than opposed to showing support to your favourite franchise with each fixture that would be scheduled throughout the season.
Another aspect to consider is the transfer of support and where allegiances lie. Say, for example, the Denver Broncos made the trip to London on an annual basis, it would be understandable if a faithful legion of support were built up over the years.
However, it is not that the Broncos (and their opponents) get Wembley’s facilities all to themselves. Instead, it is a select batch of franchises who make the trip from year to year – something that feeds more into the ‘event element’ of watching the matches.
From the attendance figures that have been recorded and the simple fact that there is no permanent franchise for London to call their own, it does feel as if fans of the game are just happy to watch whatever is put in front of them.
Be it the Broncos, Giants, or Dolphins, there is rarely a spare seat in the house. That may be the case if the London Monarchs were reborn and played out a full 2024 season, as the wow factor would undoubtedly be attached to it.
Although you wonder if this would be the case in the years that follow, when a team or franchise is your own, it becomes far more appealing if you are winning more often than not. If results go against you, floating fandom can quite easily float away.
What would it be called?
Then again, there is a point to consider: London may be the titular name for this franchise, but it could be a de-facto franchise for the whole of England. Maybe even the whole of Europe if we are thinking further afield.
While we can think further afield because of a new version of the international series on the continent and one that is now staging matches in Germany. With this version starting as recently as 2022, one match is currently in the history books.
A 21-16 win for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers saw they and the losing Seattle Seahawks play out an entertaining contest in front of 69,811 entertained supporters. Considering the Allianz Arena in Munich usually houses 75,024 fervent Bayern fans, a 93% capacity is a great starting point.
While although the NFL did not announce a longer-term deal based on that attendance alone, they did pen a four-year contract with the Allianz Arena and Waldstadion in Frankfurt to share hosting duties until 2025.
Not only that but 2.7m viewers watched the game on Germany’s ProSieben channel. A figure that made it the highest-viewed regular season game ever and one that was only surpassed by three previous Super Bowl encounters.
Admittedly, there is one entry into the German data sample regarding match attendance and television viewers. The nation may demand a franchise for itself if these values stay steady or even increase.
Another consideration is whether the NFL Network will want to give up a large swathe of any television ratings. When you factor in the change of time zone on a far more regular basis, this could be an actual test of American-based supporters viewing habits.
If 2022 was a test of that acumen and precursor of what could still come, the London-based fixtures might have passed it with flying colours—especially the one contested between the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers.
It was the Giants who ran out 27-22 winners, it was the NFL Network who were also celebrating when the viewing figures were published soon after. A staggering 5.5m fans watched this international clash – the most since records began in 2016.
That figure sounds impressive enough, even more so when you account for a 55% increase on the previous record. 3.55m stateside supporters watched the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons the year before, and nearly 2m more viewed the Giants squaring off with the Packers.
While it is also a figure that will only strengthen London’s case for permanent franchise hosting, the appetite is certainly there on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, their international series fixtures are far from throwaway.
The counterpoint to this is that if a London franchise becomes a reality, it may well cannibalise the American domestic audience after that. The 5.5m figure quoted above comes with two sets of supporters logging on to watch their beloved side play elsewhere.
If the Green Bay Packers are simply the next team on the schedule to visit England, will the NFL Network get 5.5m viewers once more? Will that figure become a victim of diminishing returns once a higher frequency of London-based fixtures is played each year?
THE PERFECT NUMBER
Whether London eventually earns a franchise to call its own may depend on whether the NFL wants to expand or position one of its existing teams elsewhere. With eight divisions of four franchises, there is perfect equilibrium when it comes to the split of 32.
Add one more into the mix and there is a question about where exactly they would fit. It is not the first time the NFL boffins would have to solve such a conundrum but an imbalance in schedule is never welcomed.
This is where the Jacksonville Jaguars may be worth their weight in field goals. With strong links to the capital already – links that come in the form of the Khan family owning Premier League outfit Fulham, they look the most obvious candidates when it comes to facilitating a change of location.
Although the Jaguars pitching up in London might not be a universally praised change. If only because the Khans own one of the weaker franchises currently in operation, they must be thankful that relegation is not a factor within the confines of the NFL.
Because if the same fluidity of promotion and relegation found in the Premier League was also in American football, it is fair to say that the Jaguars would be competing as a second-tier franchise.
At the same time, London, English, or even European-based supporters would at least be grateful that a franchise had been ported across to these shores, even if success may be a rarer sight than the Vince Lombardi Trophy itself.
Jacksonville or London for the Jaguars
However, If the London Jaguars are flying the flag for NFL Europe, it may also offer a delicate balancing act between success and the support that comes with it. Once again, this circles back to the notion of a fair-weather fan.
If this newly homed franchise is finishing seasons with a losing record, selling tickets at inflated prices is all the more difficult. The annual treat will soon become more akin to the fortnightly slog.
At the same time, there is also a sense that Jacksonville’s current crop is the most disposable franchise to relocate. Not that a fellow American city is rushing to claim them for themselves, but more a case of a move to appease a fervent European fanbase.
Should such a move be facilitated, it would also question how to schedule matches that involve a transfer from one continent to the other. Would jetlag be a factor in terms of a disadvantage to those who are making the trip to Heathrow Airport?
Not only that but there is also scope for the disadvantage of carrying over to the United States-based franchise's next regular season fixture. Losing in London would be bad enough, losing because you recently played in London would be even worse.
After a UK trip
Which is something we decided to drill down on, do franchises that played in the international series become hampered in their following NFL outing? With 15 years, 33 matches, and 66 follow-up results to analyse, we should have a decent enough sample to conclude.
Of the 66 results recorded after a franchise took a mid-season trip to London, we can see that 34 franchises saw wins in their next outing. 51.52% when looking at it from percentage terms, while 31 saw a loss by comparison.
That 46.97% shows very little difference between the two factors, if you add the tie that the St. Louis Rams recorded in 2012, the split would be 34 winning results and 32 where a win was not recorded after that.
Not an exact split, but not all that far away, either. Because this is almost equal to the toss of a coin, we cannot conclude that a franchise visiting London and then playing its next fixture will be hampered considerably.
Admittedly this figure is largely helped by the bye week afforded to those who have London duties each season. There is just enough wiggle room to allow six franchises such luxury, would there be enough for eight or nine per season?
The answer to that is most likely not and if we are to establish the London Jaguars, another question would be the division they find themselves in. With Jacksonville being located within the state of Florida, the AFC South is currently their home.
London in the AFC East
However, a switch to the AFC East would seem the most logical if Jacksonville were switched to Big Ben and Tower Bridge. That said, five into four certainly does not go and rearranging the deckchairs would be required.
Not just to see which franchise would drop out of the AFC East, but who would fill the void in the South. It might be as simple as swapping the Miami Dolphins for their fellow Floridians, it may be as difficult as pushing one franchise out of each of the AFC’s four divisions and disrupting two others.
The Environmental Impact of a London-based NFL Franchise in Figures
While although that may be one logistical headache that the NFL’s top brass may deal with, they may also have to deal with environmentalists. Especially if a considerable carbon footprint is created with a permanent London switch.
At present, six franchises are making trips per year. This allows for three matches in London (ignoring what is happening in Germany now). If there are nine matches with a permanent franchise, the carbon footprint may increase by 33% per year.
This will be offset slightly by one team being in a fixed location, which avoids the nine multiply-by-two scenario which would unfold if there were nine travelling fixtures per year. However, any increase in carbon footprint would be hard to sell and swallow in this current climate.
When looking at the four major American sports leagues, sustainability experts Waste Management calculated that the combined support of all the franchises involved created 35,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year.
While a return flight from London to New York creates nearly 1.2 tonnes of carbon emissions. Factor in the number of resources required to bring a franchise over the water, not to mention any travelling support who fancy a sports-led vacation and this figure will soon start to clock up.
In a time when being green is at the forefront of many people’s conversations, the NFL may feel that charging across the world with much more in the way of regular abandon will have to be considered a red flag.
Not one that necessarily stops a move in its tracks, but maybe the final frontier that needs to be cleared. The ultimate green light for any permanent switch may be working out how to be the greenest.
We are spoiled with our Expert team at OLBG with our Commercial Content manager Luke Bradshaw-Lee being a keen UK-based NFL fan attending London games and burning the midnight oil to catch all the weekend action, He is ably assisted with inside info from, Michael Calabrese [@EastBreese] ; an Action Network correspondent and College sports podcaster in the US with the deepest football knowledge we have ever come across. They combine to create the best American Football content on OLBG which assists our tipsters in making their NFL predictions in the tipping competition.
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