"If you build it, he will come." Field of Dreams
Once the dust settled on the fifth instalment of the NFL International Series, I find myself dreaming of a time where I’m sat at Wembley cheering on the “London [insert appropriately ferocious animal here]” with fellow fans resplendent in the jerseys and colours of our players, our team, our franchise. A stark contrast to the sea of Viking Purple, Jet Green and Indy Blue at last Sunday’s game.
We all know that the NFL has committed its teams to the International Series until 2016, with talk of the UK hosting two regular season games. Clearly more football being played in the UK is a good thing, the NFL committing to more football being played in the UK is a good thing, but at this stage I think there is a mighty leap from International Series to UK franchise. The NFL’s most recent commitment is more akin to a testing of the waters, a dipping of the toe, rather than a whole hearted endorsement for a UK franchise.
As things currently stand this would appear to be the most prudent approach; whilst the crowd of over 75,000 at Wembley will represent one of the best attended NFL games this season, either side of the pond, there were still empty seats. I’m not overly convinced that the line being spun (shortened timetable as a result of the NFL lockout) is the root cause of tickets still being available right up to the game, and I would be wary of relying on this 'excuse' too heavily. An over-emphasis on the shortened timetable can back-fire; the message being that the UK needs a good few months in order to convince people to come to the game – not a great confidence boost. Add to this the fact that the Tampa Bay Cheerleaders and a squirrel occupy the most column inches in the UK press and NFL owners can be forgiven for wondering whether the International Series is merely a spectacle whose shine and gloss will fade over time.
Let us not forget that fans in the US are understandably miffed that they are already losing a home game to the International Series and are non-too thrilled about the prospect, as they see it, of the NFL being packaged up and exported. There are those who are also of the opinion that UK NFL fans would have no room in their hearts for a UK franchise, having already pledged their undying fealty to one of the 32 US teams.
In spite of the potential pitfalls, and the incredible amount of work that is needed to secure a UK franchise, I firmly believe that the next five years presents itself as a rare opportunity to the considerable NFL fan base in the UK. I love the NFL, love the Eagles, but if I was faced with a choice of sitting through and Eagles game, half-dead at 3a.m., or the opportunity to go and watch the “London Mosquitos” (top of the deadliest animal charts) live, beer in hand, I’m heading to Wembley. Were the NFL owners to find in the UK a real support base, real earning potential and the longevity of both, they would have all the incentive they needed to push through any of the innumerably daunting logistical tasks that accompany the creation of a UK franchise. Most importantly, if they build it I will come.