Ed Driscoll

The NFL: London Calling

The National Football League has announced that they will play a regular season game in England next year:

London will hold the NFL’s first regular-season game outside North America this year, the start of a campaign to take American football to a global audience.

“There’s great history of NFL football in London, and British fans have been great fans of football over the years,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday. “We’re confident that this game is going be a great success in London and will be a great foundation to play more games there going forward.”

The opponents have yet to be announced, but the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants are believed to be front-runners for the game. The Dolphins, but not the Giants, are one of six NFL teams the league identified as potential home teams; they would give up a home game in Miami to host the contest in London.

“They are two of the teams that have expressed an interest and we’ll narrow it down to which two teams will generate the most enthusiasm for the fans in London and the broader U.K.,” Goodell said.

The most likely venue is the new 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium, which will open this spring after years of delays. The other candidate is 82,000-seat Twickenham, home of English rugby.

The other day, I happened to be reading the Wikipedia page on NFL Europe, and the concept of professional American football is not catching on across the pond. NFL’s European league–which once boasted two teams in England and one in Scotland–has contracted to the point where, essentially, NFL Europe is now NFL Germany. And I would think a huge part of their audience are the American servicemen stationed there.

As for the NFL itself, the players in the NFL hate the travel involved in these sorts of overseas games. Years ago, I read The Boys, Skip Bayless’s look at the Dallas Cowboys’ 1992 season when they won their first Super Bowl after Jerry Jones bought the team. There’s a section in the book about the Cowboys playing a preseason game in Japan that year. Then-head coach Jimmy Johnson and the players bitched endlessly about the jetlag from having to fly umpteen hours, play the game, and then fly back and prepare for next week’s game.

I guess playing overseas gets the NFL good press, and good television images. I’m not at all sure it’s a good business decision, however.