Let me be among the first to spread the rumor that the Carolina Panthers will move to London and play their home games at Wembley Stadium.
Sure, it’s probably a ridiculous rumor, but we live in a ridiculous world where truth is optional, so I’m gonna go with it.
Jerry Richardson, who made his coin in the food services industry and owns the Charlotte-based NFL team, announced that he was selling the franchise at the end of the season.
It was an abrupt move and comes on the heels of workplace misconduct allegations against the 81-year old; the NFL is currently investigating the charges.
Richardson didn’t mention the allegations in his statement about the sale, but Sports Illustrated published an article detailing them. Let’s just say they mostly fall into the “creepy, sexist, racist old man” category and move on to the main point of this column, which is expansion of pro football’s biggest league beyond the United States.
Commissioner Roger Goodell insists that the circuit doesn’t like to move teams, but he and his cabal of owners must not hate it too much.
This season alone the Rams returned to Los Angeles from St. Louis and the Chargers left San Diego for L.A., the city they started in as an American Football League franchise in 1960.
And the Oakland Raiders are heading to Las Vegas, probably no later than 2019.
But as much talk as there’s been about a team in London – and there’s been a lot – no situation has existed that made a move across the pond as likely.
The Panthers have been in the NFL for 22 seasons, played in two Super Bowls, and have established themselves as a solid franchise in a thriving city with a nice fan base.
The Panthers are still “young” in the sense that their roots and legacy do not date back to the formative days of the NFL. While the rest of the league’s owners would recoil at the suggestion the Bears move from Chicago or the Giants from New York/New Jersey, uprooting a modern expansion team and sending it to England might seem more palatable.
Now before I push this theory any further, let me say I think placing a franchise in London – or anywhere overseas – is ridiculous as a standalone move.
Scheduling will be a nightmare and create a huge hardship on players based in London, who would have to make transatlantic flights eight times over a 16-game regular season schedule.
Logistically, it makes no sense.
If the NFL wanted to do it right, it would need to expand to at least 40 teams and create two, five-team international divisions. It still wouldn’t be perfect, but far more reasonable than having one outlier.
A number of suitors are already lining up and I assume most who come along will want to keep the team in the Carolinas. As someone who lives in Greenville, South Carolina, I truly hope that happens.
Although I’m a Jets fan, it’s much more convenient to drive 100 miles to Bank of America Stadium on a Sunday morning than to make the 718-mile trek to MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
And despite music mogul P Diddy’s tongue-in-cheek interest in buying what he calls the “North Carolina Panthers,” Richardson said there will be no negotiations or inquiries about the sale until the end of this season.
By the looks of things, that season will extend beyond 16 games. The Panthers are 10-4 and currently situated as a No. 5 seed in the NFC playoff picture.
When it does end, though, it’ll be interesting to see if any kind of London-based group is in play.
Back in September Mark Waller, the NFL’s executive vice president of its international division, suggested that having a team in London by 2022 was a distinct possibility.
“Absolutely,” Waller told Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated. “And that aligns well from a CBA and union standpoint—that would need to be part of a union agreement. Not to say we couldn’t bargain it separately, but obviously if we’re doing it around that time, that would make sense.”
The 2022 season is still off in the distance, but come January (or early February) there will be only one franchise in a position to make the move.
And here’s a little tidbit for you; that team is contractually obligated to stay in Charlotte only until June, 2019.
I wonder if anyone has already copyrighted London Panthers?