When Roger Goodell was in London to spread the National Football League gospel earlier this month, he spoke at a UK Live event before the Green Bay Packers-New York Giants game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Now that the league is a regular visitor to England (Denver meets Jacksonville today at Wembley Stadium), rumors of international expansion come up quite frequently.
Goodell isn’t exactly trying to squelch them.
“I think there’s no question that London could support not just one franchise, but I think two franchises, I really believe that,” Goodell said at the fan gathering hosted by Sky Sports.
“And that’s from a fan perspective, a commercial standpoint, from a media standpoint, I think you (the UK fans) have undoubtedly proven that and thank you for that.”
Talk of a London franchise has been a hot topic for several years, although possibly awarding two to the Swinging City is a fairly recent development. The biggest news to me, however, was how Goodell responded to a question from Sky Sport’s Neil Reynolds.
Reynolds pointed out the three NFL-ready stadiums in London (Wembley, Twickenham and Hotspur) as well as future games scheduled for Munich and Frankfurt, and asked the commish about the possibility of an international division in the NFL.
“That’s part of what we’re doing, right?” Goodell answered. “We’re trying to see could you have multiple locations in Europe where you could have an NFL franchise because it would be easier as a division.”
While I’d love it for my friends there who want a team (or teams) of their own, I’ve never been able to wrap my brain around the logistics of having one or two European squads when the other 32 are in the contiguous United States. It wouldn’t be an issue if we had a transporter, but according to Star Trek, human teleportation isn’t scheduled for mass use until 2121.
Anyway, let’s say the NFL does grant London two teams (I’d put one in the AFC East and the other in the NFC East). It seems the only way to deal with the travel issue is to have long home stands by the London teams followed by extended road trips.
Sure, the NFL has plenty of money to make weekly junkets from an American NFL city to England, but it’d be asking a lot of a player to spend Week One in London, Week Two in San Francisco, Week Three back in London, etc. I don’t see how their body clocks could ever sync up.
If I had to come up with a plan for this (and I don’t, so you needn’t worry) it would be for the London teams to go with a four road/four home/four road/four home/plus one (17th game) scheduling format. Maybe a couple of U.S. cities without NFL franchises could be the home-away-from-home for the Londoners, serving as a base camp to train and fly in and out of when they have their month-long stays in America.
It’s not perfect, but it seems workable.
The division plan is a better idea, but it still has pitfalls.
Let’s say London 1, London 2, Frankfurt and Munich make up what we’ll call the European Division. Playing each division foe twice along with the balance of a 17-game schedule, that gives the United Kingdom/Germany wing of the NFL 11 or 12 games on their side of the pond plus five or six in the United States.
You’d still have to go with a wonky home and road slate, though. And aside from that, what do you do with this one division dangling all by itself?
Is it part of the AFC, NFC, or neither?
Of course, the biggest question of all is how to stock the teams. It seems logical (and necessary) that the four European franchises be part of the regular NFL draft. But there would be culture shock issues to deal with and – in the case of players drafted by Frankfurt and Munich – potential language barriers.
While some athletes would love a chance to live and work abroad, many would likely be trying to find a way to get the German teams to make trades with those based in the Lower 48.
“The question I think is going to come down to, not so much the logistics about travel, that’s clearly a challenge, it really comes down to whether you can do it competitively,” Goodell told Reynolds. “Where the team here or the teams in the States coming over can continue to be competitive and that was the challenge when we did the regular season games.”
Ultimately, the NFL will have to figure out how big is too big. Thirty-two franchises are a seam-busting number for the top tier of any professional sports league, and growing beyond that runs the risk of diluting the product.
Plus, you’d have to feel for fans in places like St. Louis and Oakland who’d love to have an NFL team back only to see franchises go to places where tackle football was nothing more than a novelty just a few years ago.
For now, all this is just talk – interesting talk, certainly, but with no definitive plan of action behind it.
Yet with the NFL continuing to expand its footprint and develop an international fan base, it’d be silly to dismiss the idea of a team or teams in Europe, whether through expansion or relocation.
Besides, the rivalry between the London Spitfires and London Skylarks would be fantastic.