NFL is Taking Big Risk Showcasing Subpar Teams in London

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystSeptember 26, 2013

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 25:  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks to hand off the ball during the NFL game against the Minnesota Vikings at Heinz Field on October 25, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Vikings 27-17. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

By all accounts, the NFL's International Series has been a rousing success, so much so that rumors continue to swirl about the possibility of an NFL team moving across the Pond full-time.

However, if the NFL's end game truly is establishing a European beachhead with a franchise in London, the league would be well served to showcase the best the NFL has to offer.

That's certainly not the case this week. For the first time in the admittedly brief history of the International Series, a pair of winless teams will match up when the Minnesota Vikings face the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Can you feel the excitement?

Granted, the Vikings were a playoff team last year, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have been perennial contenders for most of the past decade. With the schedule set well in advance, there was no way for the NFL to know that both these teams would come out of the gate and faceplant.

However, this week's game continues a trend: The International Series games have not exactly been "game of the week" material.

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The fact that many of the London matchups have hardly been titanic struggles hasn't hurt ticket sales or attendance to this point. The six London games prior to this year's doubleheader have averaged more than 80,000 fans.

Sunday's game is expected to feature a packed house as well. According to Tom Pelissero of USA Today, both games in the UK this year were sold out within weeks.

Add that to the 154 percent increase in TV ratings that the NFL has seen in the UK since the International Series began (according to Neil Reynolds of the Pro Football Hall of Fame), and everything's going according to plan, right?

That depends on the plan. If it's the status quo of a game or two a year, yes.

However, if what New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft told Reynolds is any indication, the league's ambitions stretch far beyond that.

I personally think we should have a franchise in the U.K. I think I said that last time we were over here and before this next decade is out, I hope we have a team here. I think that would be right for the NFL and this fan base has proven they deserve it.

Sure Bob, it's for the fans. You and the other owners aren't closing your eyes and imagining a giant pile of British pounds or anything.

With that said though, more bad football could easily lead to a significant snag with "Operation Overseas," especially if the theoretical London franchise ends up being the leading candidate.

Ever since the Jacksonville Jaguars agreed to four straight seasons of games in London, the Jaguars have been looked at as the team most likely to make the big move.

Those rumors only intensified when owner Shad Khan called the Jaguars "the home team for London," after purchasing the Fulham soccer club in July (per Will Brinson of CBS Sports).

Now, before any Jaguars fans start freaking out, no one said they were moving. Besides, you have more important things to be angry about. Like a team so bad that this YouTube video is now the most entertaining thing about them:

Once upon a time, the Jaguars were a shiny new expansion team, with hope for the future and enthusiastic fans. From 1995-1999, the Jags went to the playoffs in four straight seasons.

Believe it or not, they were one game away from the Super Bowl...twice.

Now, the Jaguars check in at No. 31 on Forbes' list of NFL team valuations. The attendance figures are skewed by the tarps that cover nearly 10,000 seats at EverBank Field in an effort to dodge TV blackouts.

They still don't have much luck in that regard, regularly buying up tickets to avoid blackouts. In fact, an Orlando TV station recently issued an apology to area football fans during a Jaguars game.


Bagging on the Jaguars aside, that's the risk the NFL takes by spotlighting a rotten team or lousy games in London.

Right now, the one or two games a year are an event. They're a novelty. Casual fans flock to see something new and exciting. Many get hooked on American football.

That novelty will wear off quickly if an occasional stinker turns into eight weeks of watching the "home team" get the snot kicked out of them every year.

Will any of this change? Probably not. The Jaguars are locked in for four years. The parity in the NFL is always going to add an air of randomness to matchups determined a year in advance.

Still, if the NFL's goal is to establish a European foothold as the next step in their plan for global domination, Roger Goodell may want to bone up on his marketing strategies.

The bait-and-switch usually involves some bait.


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