Experimenting with NFL Games in London Is a Lost Cause
Beginning with the 2005 season, the National Football League has launched what is known as the “NFL International Series.” With the exception of 2006, the league has played one regular season contest on foreign soil annually since then.
Sunday’s Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers matchup was the most recent installment in this experimental series. For the most part, the game was one-sided until the Bears nearly blew a three score lead in the fourth quarter. It was an exciting contest but for all the wrong reasons.
It’s obvious why the NFL is playing games overseas–globalization. Seeing how powerful the game of football has become in America, makes the opportunity to invest the sport across the world a wise decision.
However, the experiment needs to stop.
There’s multiple reasons the International Series will never produce anything more than a yearly low quality contest between two teams who would have been bound for an early afternoon kickoff anyway.
Here’s seven reasons why the NFL’s experiment in London will never equate to anything:
Limits on Types of Games That Could Be Played
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What makes the NFL so special is that since there are so few regular season games, every one matters and significantly.
Games within the division and even inner-conference are especially crucial.
The NFL would never send a Ravens-Steelers, Patriots-Jets, Cowboys-Eagles, Bears-Packers or Falcons-Saints game across the pond to be viewed by a foreign audience.
In the six previous International series contests, four of them have been AFC-NFC inter-conference matchups. Sunday’s Bears-Bucs contest was the first inner-conference game in six years.
The first game in 2005 was the only one played in Mexico City and featured the San Francisco 49ers against the Arizona Cardinals (two states that feature high Hispanic populations).
It was also the only divisional game to date.
Games within a division and arguably even a conference are too valuable to be played in unfamiliar territory and would unfairly favor one team.
For example, if the Steelers hosted the Ravens in Pittsburgh and then the Ravens hosted the Steelers in London, the Ravens would never actually be the “home” team. That would make the rivalry unfavorable for Baltimore and too impactful on the AFC North.
One Team Has to Sacrifice a Home Game
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Just because Wembley Stadium features Tampa Bay cheerleaders, logos, signs and props does not mean it is anywhere close to providing the advantage that Raymond James Stadium would.
Going right back to the point about games meaning so much in the NFL–no team would willingly surrender a home game unless the league pressed the issue.
Why should the Bucs have to give up a home game when the Saints, Panthers and Falcons get to play at their respective home locations a full eight times?
If this was baseball, basketball or hockey and a team had either 81 or 41 home games, playing on a neutral site in place of one single game is no big deal. For the NFL’s schedule, the effect is much more significant.
Quality of the Games
With the limitations on what types of games can acceptably be sent to be played in London, the quality of the matchups is usually directly affected as well.
In the case where most games are AFC-NFC bouts, the teams are usually lopsided on paper. The games tend to be closer than they should be, but it’s easy to lose interest when the Patriots embarrassed the Buccaneers 35-7 in 2009.
There’s a reason that Broncos-49ers and Giants-Dolphins were chosen to be played in London. Those games aren’t attractive to the general audience on their own. The league wisely adds the “London” stipulation to make them 0.01 percent more intriguing.
If the NFL wants to truly display the best product to a new audience, the only way to do that would be to send over a primetime matchup and treat them to some of the league’s best athletes.
That would never happen though as the consequences would be to great back in the states.
Nothing Follows Up the International Series
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Here’s one of the biggest logistical flaws in the NFL London series.
After the lackluster game is over, what happens next?
Nothing. For an entire calendar year.
There’s no follow-up with any of the teams in London. The same teams don’t come back every year to defend Wembley Stadium in front of the same fans. The NFL throws two different teams overseas almost at random as long as they’re not critically important games.
With no American-style football league in Europe any longer, nothing follows the contests except for waiting. There’s almost no point to tease the product of the NFL, if 364 days of the year are have nothing to do with that brand of sport again.
London Will Never Host a Super Bowl
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No way in hell would Roger Goodell ship an unofficial American holiday and historic tradition to a foreign country thousands of miles and at least five time zones away.
The Super Bowl has dominated the television ratings in the last decade.
Every year, the Super Bowl becomes the next “highest rated program” in cable history. That trend doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon.
Why should England get pumped to host NFL games if they know they’ll never have a playoff contest on their soil?
It’s an unnecessary tease for a dream that will never come true.
What Are the Odds England Lands a Team?
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Quite frankly, the odds are next to nothing.
It’s no secret certain struggling franchises like the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars (above) are candidates to be relocated.
There are plenty of cities inside the United States that should have a chance to host a team before London does.
Why wouldn’t the NFL want to feature another Los Angeles team? After all, it’s the second largest market in the country.
And what about cities like San Antonio, Las Vegas, Columbus, Louisville, Orlando, Portland, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Boise or even Toronto? All feature professional or highly successful college teams. Could they support an NFL franchise too?
And unless one team relocates to London, the league will not be adding any new clubs. Thirty-two is the perfect number. Everything is perfectly balanced and geographically correct (except for the Rams, but that’s debatable).
Foreigners Are Unfamiliar with American Football
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It was clear again Sunday when England erupted with cheers every time the ball was kicked off, spiked or thrown incomplete. London’s fans didn’t know when to cheer and what exactly they were even cheering about.
Think of one play in particular. When Brian Urlacher intercepted Josh Freeman the play then featured a fumble and a personal foul prior to the turnover. Bears head coach bought some time and then challenged the fumbled to recover possession and tack on the penalty yardage.
If you’re a native Brit and all this goes on, how likely is it that you’ll know what’s going on and why it’s taking place?
The structure, rules and concept of the game are so strange to untrained eyes. That one play probably resulted in more head scratching than firm nods and comments like, “good challenge, Lovie.”
The NFL is America’s baby. No franchises need to be permanently located in Europe.
English Premier League teams come across the pond to dominate Major League Soccer clubs in “friendlies” all the time. But would Manchester United ever consider playing on American soil only? It would hurt the franchise and the sport as a whole.
The same goes for the National Football League.
Brett Lyons is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials.
Follow Brett Lyons on Twitter @BrettLyons670.