As we wrote yesterday, the NFL’s international chief, Mark Waller, still believes the league is on track for potential expansion to Europe by around 2022. With the NFL ramping up to three games played at Wembley Stadium in London this season, Waller and company are beginning to experiment in different ways with those overseas contests, as he explained to Albert Breer of the NFL Network.
“I’m less focused on going from three (games) to four, four to five, five to six,” Waller said. “Can we do back-to-back games? Will the surface hold up? Can we start sending teams there without the bye attached? It’s not about the number anymore. … We’re at a place now where if we continue to do the job with the fans, the fan base will grow, and we’ll be able to have a team (in London). The questions now are logistical.”
While the NFL’s global marketing plan is ambitious, it’s worth considering whether having a franchise in London is the logical next step for the league. In my view, getting a team back in Los Angeles should be the NFL’s top priority, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude the possibility of expanding to London. Reports continue to suggest that when a combination of the right team, the right owner, and the right stadium come together, NFL football will return to L.A., and the league’s goal of installing a franchise overseas can be viewed as an entirely separate issue.
Still, with no NFL franchise seemingly on the verge of relocation at the moment, one has to wonder if the league is willing to move multiple teams within the next few years to get teams in L.A. and London. At 32 franchises, the NFL already features more teams than any of the other major North American sports leagues, so further expansion seems somewhat dubious.
That’s one possible roadblock for a London team, and Waller himself names a few more — it’s not clear yet whether Wembley Stadium will be capable of hosting eight games per season, or whether European fans more accustomed to following another form of football would continue to turn up and support a franchise full-time. Additionally, traveling from one coast of America to the other is already viewed as a significant handicap for West Coast clubs. The idea of having eight teams per year traveling overseas for games likely won’t be an easy sell.
What do you think? Does it make sense for the NFL to attempt to get a franchise in place in London within the next decade or so, or is that an overly ambitious plan for the league?