There’s no secret about the NFL’s immediate plans for expansion. While there aren’t any teams immediately ready to move and no expansion franchise is on the horizon, the NFL does want to fill in a couple of big markets. Los Angeles, which hasn’t been home for an NFL team since 1995, is a city destined to get its own team, and overseas, London seems to be consistently mentioned as a location for a current or future team to make home.
For some time, many have believed the NFL would first look to fill L.A. with a permanent team before focusing on the United Kingdom. Games are played at Wembley Stadium as part of the NFL’s international series, but the stadium won’t be hosting its own team for some time.
Comments made to Sky Sports by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell indicate the NFL is dead set on putting a team in L.A. before London. In fact, the NFL doesn’t seem to have any preference in the matter at all other than the desire to fill both markets.
“I don't know which of Los Angeles or London will be first and I'm not sure I care, Goodell told Sky Sports. I'd like to see if we can be successful in both ultimately.”
London has been able to sell tickets to the NFL’s limited number of events at Wembley. In the seven events hosted at the stadium since 2007, crowds have topped 80,000 in each game with the exception of a 2011 matchup between the Bears and the Buccaneers according to the NFL. Considering the struggles some NFL franchises have experienced selling tickets in their own markets, those are exceptional numbers and seem to indicate London is a prime candidate for gaining its own franchise.
There are obstacles the NFL has to clear if its long term intention is to indeed put a team in the U.K. First and foremost, any team playing in London will be traveling far more than any other team in the league. The distance from London to New York City is roughly 3,500 miles. For comparison, Seattle, Washington is only about 2,400 miles away from New York City, and the Seahawks don’t actually have to travel to the east coast very often. A team in London would have to travel at least 3,500 miles eight games per season. Sure, they’d experience a big home advantage when other teams visited, but it’s hard to imagine how traveling overseas every other week could be a net advantage to any team.
We may also need to take Goodell’s comments to Sky Sports with a grain of salt. He was speaking to a British audience, and logically speaking, he’s not going to tell them that they’ll have to wait until the NFL resolves the ongoing issues with putting a team in L.A. before the league will even consider putting a team in London. Maybe Goodell really doesn’t care which market gets filled first, but there’s no denying the logistics are much simpler in Los Angeles.
Right now, it’s unclear whether the NFL will move teams out of small markets and into L.A. or London, but more clarity is coming – eventually. From a business perspective, the NFL wants to put teams in big markets. Still, moving teams, or even creating new ones, takes time, and even if London does happen to be next in line for an NFL franchise, that process won’t happen overnight. The NFL seems to be continuously warming up to the idea of putting a team in London, and for now, that’ll have to be good enough for our fellow British NFL fans.