With the NFL having had at least one regular season game in London since 2007 and recently upgrading it to three games a season, it can't be much of a shocker to hear that the NFL is eyeing up the UK. It was figured that the league has been planning on how to get into the UK market for years, but to hear something more official than just rumors is incredibly interesting.
According to NFL spokesman and the NFL's executive vice-chairman international Mark Waller, and a BBC report, the NFL has committed a franchise to London by the year 2022.
The fan base is big enough and passionate enough that it can support a franchise.
The travel time from the United States to London was figured to be the biggest hurdle for the NFL and other teams in allowing something like this. For the west coast, they are looking at a flight lasting over 11 hours to get into town and a time change when they get there that would be eight full hours. Leaving at noon in San Francisco, would put them in London at 7:00 AM the next day with the flight and time change added in.
Talk about some serious jet lag!
Yet, Waller doesn't seem to be too bothered by that and hints that the NFL might have something figured out on how to combat that type of grueling travel.
We are in a unique position as a sport because of the way our season is structured - we only play one game a week. It's not something other American sports could do.
The even bigger question is how the league would get a team there. They could do it through simple expansion, but with every division having four teams and every conference having 32, it would harken back to the days of the late 1990s before the Houston Texans became a franchise and the NFL corrected the division setups. Before the Texans, the Ravens were the fifth team in the AFC North with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans, and Jacksonville Jaguars and it being called the AFC Central division instead. With the Cleveland Browns becoming a franchise again in 1999, the AFC Central division had six teams to it's name.
So if the league were to expand another team, it would give us 33 total franchises and would mess up the cleaner divisions that have been set up. The other option is to just relocate an already existing franchise into the UK instead.
Certainly that would keep the divisions at four teams each still, but as we are seeing with the now Los Angeles Rams, that involves a lot of heartbreak and a ton of money for everyone involved. Even if we ignore all of that, what team would best fit there in the next six years? The Jacksonville Jaguars seem like the best fit, but owner Shahid Khan who also owns the soccer team Fulham FC, has said that he has no plans to move the Jaguars to London.
It will be interesting to see what the NFL says about this now that one of it's executives has mentioned the timeline. Typically when announced properly, the league makes a pretty large fuss out of this type of thing. Will the NFL deny what it's own executive said or will they release the real plan with additional details?
What team do you think makes it's way over to the U.K. and what division do they go into?