I write about things I find interesting, and although I am not an expert, I have fun learning as I research. I hope you like the results!
Could a UK NFL franchise be a looming possibility? With American Football getting bigger and bigger in the UK, speculation is increasing that a franchise could be set for a move to take advantage of this explosion of interest.
The prime contender is the Jacksonville Jaguars, based in Florida.
Jaguars enter the field carrying a Union Jack
This is mainly down to their owner Shahid Khan – the billionaire owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Fulham Football Club and All-Elite-Wrestling – and his desire to buy Wembley Stadium.
Khan first expressed an interest in buying the national stadium in 2018 when he made a £600m bid. The controversy this caused resulted in both parties backing away from any deal. In light of the damage Covid-19 has caused to the finances of the FA, there is renewed speculation of Khan coming back with another offer.
This type of determination on his part does make one wonder if the purpose is to migrate his Jaguars franchise to London and take advantage of the growing popularity.
The alternative to this would be what? Fulham playing at Wembley? They struggle to fill Craven Cottage with its capacity of 27,500, so that doesn’t seem likely and using the venue for his AEW wrestling brand is just ridiculous.
London (or UK) Jaguars, however, doesn’t sound ridiculous. This would be a very controversial, divisive and devastating move for Jaguars fans in the United States.
However, the opportunity for fans to have their very own UK NFL franchise to support is one that may be very lucrative for Mr Khan. Cynics may even suggest he only bought Fulham in 2013, one year after his purchase of Jacksonville, to garner support amongst Londoners.
London or Jacksonville?
The Jacksonville TIAA Bank Field stadium has a capacity of 67,164 and with Wembley Stadium capable of holding up to 90,000 – with the London International Games regularly sold out – the upside is there for all to see.
The question is, would this hold true if the same team were playing every home game, or would it lose some of its appeal?
There’s no question that Khan has been doing his best to launch a charm offensive with his Jaguars brand. He has put them forward to play a home game at Wembley Stadium each season since taking ownership of the franchise in 2012. Indeed, the Jags were scheduled to play in London twice in 2020 before Covid-19 scuppered the entire International Series.
On top of this, the Jaguars have been doing a lot of work in the community around the UK – some of which you can read about on their Jaguars.co.uk website and there is no doubt about it, no team gets more support in the London Games now, than Jacksonville.
Short Video About the Jaguars Gridiron Grant in London
The migration of a franchise is not a rarity in the NFL. In recent years the Chargers have moved from San Diego to Los Angeles. Likewise, the Rams from St Louis to Los Angeles.
The Colts moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis and in turn, the Browns moved from Cleveland to Baltimore, where they became rebranded 'the Ravens'. The ensuing franchise in Cleveland was allowed to keep the Browns name and history by the NFL.
The Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee before changing their name to the Titans.
Last but not least, the Raiders have moved from Oakland to LA, back to Oakland and now their latest stopover is in Las Vegas. Thus making them the most nomadic franchise in the NFL.
This concept is almost unheard of in the UK and I can’t help but feel this lack of loyalty would rankle with British fans. The only similar situation I can think of here would be when Wimbledon made the move to Milton Keynes amid much controversy and anger.
So with the scenario firmly planted in peoples minds, let’s look at the positives and negatives of a potential migration from Jacksonville to London.
UK NFL Franchise – The Negatives
- The most obvious and devastating negative is for the people of Jacksonville and its surroundings. Not only of a sporting nature but also financial. NFL franchises have a huge financial aspect to them as a part of the richest league in world sport and the impact on the city would not be inconsequential. Jobs would be lost, income from fans in the city would be lost and many other financial impacts would be felt in Jacksonville.
- There is a fear amongst UK based fans of the Jaguars, that they would lose their identity by moving to the UK.
- The UK doesn’t need a franchise and the London Games are successful due to the variety of teams taking part. There is also an ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality prevalent amongst some. They fear the novelty could wear off if we had our own franchise.
- Some suggest the whole thing would be seen as a money-making gimmick. The people making the decision have no interest in fans, other than taking their cash.
- Most UK fans who follow the NFL already support teams. They wouldn’t be willing to get behind a new one just because they played here.
- All genuine concerns that need to be addressed but first let's look at the positives.
UK NFL Franchise – Positives
- The explosion of interest year on year makes this a viable proposition.
- It would help expand the game and bring incentives to grassroots levels. UK football leagues and players would have a bigger avenue of opportunity to play professionally. This would include athletes from other sports, such as rugby, athletics and soccer.
- Younger fans, new to the game, will embrace a UK NFL franchise as they are unlikely to have prior allegiance to any particular team.
- It would give the UK a foothold in the richest sporting league in the world. It will likely bring in tourists from Europe, the USA and beyond to watch games and spend their money in the UK.
- The new franchise would quickly establish a new identity, with a very British feel to it.
Thoughts on this topic are very divided and there is no real right or wrong answer. There are just personal opinions and this is mine.
I will use the Jaguars as an example but the scenario applies no matter who the eventual migrating team might be.
Looking at the positives and negatives, I can totally see both sides of it. However, sitting on the fence achieves nothing, so I’m making my decision based on these thoughts…
- A franchise being ripped out of a city, any city, is horrific and has terrible consequences. On the flip side, owners will move franchises based on fiscal and personal reasons and nothing will stop that. Based on that, if an owner wishes to move from his current location, why not the UK? Jacksonville’s citizens are going to be angry and upset whether the Jaguars move to Omaha, Nebraska or London
- A team moving here losing its identity may well be true but it would also be gaining one. It would literally be the only team outside the continental United States. In a sport that proclaims the Super Bowl winners ‘World Champions’! That claim may well have a slightly more truthful ring about it if new countries were involved. I imagine marketing people coming up with some very slick campaigns to give the franchise an identity. With British fans being so passionate and bloody-minded, they would probably create their own identity anyway.
- The boost to the grassroots game in the UK cannot be overestimated. It would be huge for leagues and fledgeling teams up and down the country to see a professional team here. It would ultimately offer them a chance to take their game to the next level. The Jaguars would gain a freak opportunity to harvest players that other franchises wouldn’t be able to scout. All those rugby players may start getting itchy feet when they see the money on offer…
- If someone had told me it would be just a gimmick a few years ago, I might have agreed. However, with the levels of interest in the sport in the UK and mainland Europe now, I can’t agree. There is a genuine desire from a huge amount of fans to see games in London (and beyond if the opportunity presented itself) and the continual sell-out crowds over the past few years have proven that.
- With regard to the variety of teams making the London Games what they are, I do agree with that. At the same time, there would still be sixteen teams coming to play in London over a two-year period. The NFL rotates the schedule each season so that there would be different teams year on year. Each year, the UK teams fanbase would be growing and neutrals would still want to go and watch the matches too – as well as fans travelling over from the States to watch their teams.
- The cash injection of the extra London Games shouldn’t be underestimated. Add to this the extra jobs that would be created with an uptick in tourism, the local economy, sales, ticketing and marketing etc.
Based on my summary, you can probably tell by now that I am in favour of a UK NFL franchise…. with one caveat!
NO team should be uprooted from its home or its fans!
It’s almost a criminal act to do so in my opinion and not one that should be encouraged.
Instead, I propose that the NFL create and make room for, an extra division – World Division One. New expansion teams can be formed in London, Mexico City, Toronto and the European Union, The European Union can play home games in various capital cities for home games.
Imagine four new franchises taking on the best the NFL has to offer and improving year on year – utilising not just the American college system but tapping the wealth of talent that would surely grow in their own countries. This new talent would help enrich the NFL as a whole.
As you are about to see, I write articles, not bestow names on new franchises. but I will attempt to do so anyway…
World Division One
- UK Upstarts
- Mexican Martillos
- European Union
- Canadian Maple Leafs
Now, who doesn’t want to see that?
Roger Goodell, would you like your Super Bowl winners to truly be the World Champions, rather than in name only?
© 2022 Ian