In a Super Bowl-like atmosphere last weekend complete with fireworks, a pop music band, huge flames, and a glorious redemption of “God Save the Queen” by a popular Opera singer from Wales, Tom Brady and the Patriots routed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-7 in front of 84,000 people at sold-out Wembley Stadium. While the score would indicate a real dud of a game, there has been some positive reaction from those who attended the game and watched it on TV that may lead the NFL to hold even more regular season games in London – and possibly start a new English NFL franchise at some point. In fact, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said last week that he would like to see an NFL franchise in London sometime in the next decade. And after last week’s game in London, he saw nothing that would change his position.
Right now, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and team owners are going to have to decide if the English popularity was enough to schedule more than one game in London next season. The NFL has not ruled out four games a year at some point but could possibly schedule two in the next couple of years.
“I think there’s a decent chance [that it will be 2010],” Alistair Kirkwood, the managing director of NFL UK, told the London-based Times. “The key thing is to get the owners of the two prospective home teams to agree. I’d like to think we’ll begin serious discussions in November and be able to make an announcement in December. It will either be in 2010 or 2011.”
At first, I thought I had no problem with the NFL expanding America’s passion to the U.K. but then, after mulling it over for a period of time I decided against it. Why is the NFL trying to expand its game to a questionable market when a handful of its teams (Oakland, Jacksonville, San Diego) can’t sell-out their U.S. stadiums, causing TV blackouts locally? Shouldn’t the NFL make it work at home before expanding to another market? Let’s fill the stadiums we have now before the NFL goes on to conquer another market.
Now I wasn’t able to make the trip to Wembley Stadium last weekend to see the game and fan reaction for my own eyes (my Watch travel account doesn’t include international destinations, but I would be willing to bet that the English fans really don’t like American football as much as they seemed to at the game. Hell, you put 80,000 fans in a stadium with rock bands, touching anthems, pretty boy Tom Brady, TV cameras, and fireworks, anyone would have a good time. It was put on like a Super Bowl. All hoopla – terrible game. Even my mother would have a good time at that blown-up sporting event.
I had an interesting international NFL experience back in 1999 when the Broncos played the Chargers in an exhibition match in the newly opened Olympic stadium in Sydney, Australia. My family made the trip to the Southern Hemisphere to watch the Broncos play while experiencing everything Australia had to offer. The stadium didn’t sell out for the exhibition game but it was a beautiful day for some American gridiron action. What the few of us Americans in the crowd learned after the game started is that American football is slow. Very slow. Sporting fans across the globe are used to the constant action of soccer and rugby, where games rarely stop, even for injuries. They hated all the pauses.
“Is this another time out?!” One screamed while the Broncos simply huddled up in between plays. “Yes. Touchdown,” another screamed with his fist in the air after a ref threw a flag. He had thought the Broncos scored. “Which one is the running back?” another said. “These kickers suck,” said another man wearing an outdated Joe Namath jersey. It was a good thing that the drinking age was 18 that day. The cold beer made the confused and hostile local reaction to NFL football bearable. Australia wasn’t (and isn’t) ready for a fulltime NFL presence and I am not sure the U.K is either.
If the NFL wants to expand to the U.K., it needs to put on a realistic NFL game next year by sending two lack-luster teams to play in London. Let’s see if the Brits will be able to handle a real bore of a game. How about sending the St. Louis Rams and the Oakland Raiders? (You would have to pay me to go to that game.) And hopefully the game will be held in some real snotty-like weather complete with frigid temperatures, bone-chilling rain and a sloppy field so no team can throw the ball for long exciting plays. As that game ends with a 6-3 St. Louis win, the NFL should then measure to see if the English fans are up for some realistic American football without all the gimmicks.
I don’t think that game is going to sell like the Super Bowl-like appearance of the 2009 game. It’s time the NFL gets realistic about its future in the U.K. There is no future for the NFL in the U.K. Maybe the NFL should first try to figure out how to get the pro bowl back to Hawaii. I will save that disappointing issue for another day.