This Week in the NFL: London Calling

I’ll make you a deal this week – we don’t have to talk about Peyton Manning. Not that the newly-crowned all-time touchdown leader didn’t have another strong week – throwing for just under 300 yards completing 25 of 35 attempted passes, but this time Peyton isn’t the star. Even if he did call out the Broncos scoreboard operator in a press conference.

Okay, so we talked about him a bit. Sorry.

The reason we really don’t need to worry too much about Peyton and his Broncos this week is because the rest of the league really pulled it out of the bag from top to bottom, with great football in almost every game and there’s plenty to talk about off the field. But we’re not even going to talk about that either. This was the week that saw the NFL up sticks and fly the whole circus across the Atlantic to play in London as part of the International Series, so it only seems proper to take a good look at that.

The presence of the NFL in London isn’t a new thing. Way back in 2007 the New York Giants faced the Miami Dolphins at our very own Wembley Stadium, in the first regular season game played outside of the North American continent. That success has rolled on into what we have now: three games each season being played in London and repeated murmurings about the possibility of an NFL franchise in England, as well as the occasional mention from upon high that a Super Bowl at Wembley isn’t off the cards. For the 90,000 fans under the arch in each of the sell-out games this can’t possibly be bad news, tired of watching from afar, tired of explaining why they’re groggy on a Tuesday morning – having football almost on our doorstep is a godsend and something that those same fans wouldn’t have dreamt of when they discovered the allure of gridiron football. There are three more games scheduled for 2015, and at least the same number will be played in 2016. They’ll all sell out regardless of which teams are destined to travel, so we can safely assume that football in London will be a regular feature for the foreseeable future.

There’s simply no way elite athletes can be ready to give their all just hours after a transcontinental flight – and therein lies one of the biggest problems with the mooted London franchise

But how sustainable is it? Is an overseas franchise really viable? The various teams that have made the journey to England in the middle of their already rigorous schedules have tried numerous strategies to minimise the impact on their players. Most elect to arrive as late possible before the game and get out as quickly as they can after it in an effort to bring the Wembley game as close to normality as possible. Apparently that isn’t the way forward now though, with both teams from this Sunday’s game arriving in London much earlier, surrendering to the jet lag and aiming to recover in time to compete rather than attempting to side-step the effects of so much travel on the body. It’s the only sensible solution, because there’s simply no way elite athletes can be ready to give their all just hours after a transcontinental flight – and therein lies one of the biggest problems with the mooted London franchise. Looking past trying to sustain the interest of 90,000 fans for an entire season (almost all of whom have already tied their flag to a team in the existing NFL of course) the logistical quandary surrounding the use of Wembley and trying to relocate a team 4000 miles from its current home, the impact on those London-based players would be incredible. In a sport where performance at anything less than 100% can be the difference between victory and defeat, any London team would be immediately handicapped and it’s tough to see how a franchise could compete on a sporting level with the ‘home’ teams.


A possible solution would be to split the season in half, with the away legs all being played in an eight week window before Team London flies back to England to complete their home fixtures, minimising the impact of repeated long distance travel. Of course, all the travelling teams would still have to cross the Atlantic to play in London, but once a season is manageable – the current International Series is demonstrating that perfectly. Whether or not the teams would be prepared to even consider a schedule arrangement like that is a mystery. It seems likely that they’d be reluctant to accept priority treatment for any potential London team, leaving tough decisions for the league.

The idea of a London franchise is great, having football within reach throughout the season would be a big step forward from the state of the sport in this country 15 years ago. It’s also something of a romantic ideal, with a seemingly endless string of hurdles to be tackled before any team could even think about moving in to Wembley. Perhaps loving the NFL from afar is the safest way to preserve the passion.

James Hirst

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21-year-old Ameri-Czech student of Politics & Economics at the University of Nottingham. Sports Editor @impactmagazine. FFC worshipper. European.

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