• London Calling: A Zone Blitz Special Report



    From: Brian
    To: wxwax
    Subject: Zone Blitz: The International Series
    Date: Mon, 7 Oct 2013 08:02:09 -0400



    Wax,

    The NFL is about to embark on its 9th official “International Series” game, and 2nd this season, when the 49ers and Jaguars meet in London this weekend. With games scheduled through 2016, it’s clear that this has gone well beyond the experimental stage. And really, by all accounts, the series has been successful, as it appears the NFL brand has grown internationally.

    Of course, we all know that there is a much larger purpose here, as the NFL is looking into the viability of relocating a franchise into the London market, and are looking into the possibility of having London host a Super Bowl. It is no coincidence that the Jaguars are involved for the next 4 seasons, including this one, and that their owner, Shahid Khan, is also an owner of Fulham FC in the English Premier League. Roger Goodell has stated in the past that he wants to take a team and make them a consistent annual presence in London to help build a fanbase. With apologies to the dude in the mastercard commercial in full-on Jaguar regalia, his half-cousin, an aunt, and about 217 of the internet’s most annoying spammers, the Jaguars don’t have a fanbase in the States, so it makes as much sense as any to try and have them build one abroad.

    There are a number of teams that have the potential to establish some roots in England, even if they aren’t candidates for permanent relocation. The Rams (Arsenal) and Bucs (Manchester United), along with the Jaguars, all share ownership with a club in the EPL. Also, Dan Rooney recently served as Ambassador to Ireland for 3 years, which has created interest within the Steelers organization to look into playing a game in Ireland. And although it’s not overseas, let’s not forget that the Bills have recently begun to play a few games per year in Toronto.

    With your personal expertise on the subject, and your deep-seeded interest in the English Premier League, I thought you were the perfect person to bring into this conversation, so I’m going to give the floor to you. How popular do you actually think the NFL is in England, and across Europe? Do you think that it’s viable for an NFL franchise to thrive overseas, and more importantly, does London even want a team? How would the Premiership react if an NFL franchise were to relocate, especially considering the NFL and EPL seasons run congruent with each other? Also, what about the Super Bowl question? Does it make sense, both logically and logistically, for the NFL to consider hosting its biggest game overseas?

    You've officially been blitzed, wax! Feel free to take this conversation in any direction you’d like.



    From: wxwax
    To: Brian
    Subject: RE: Zone Blitz: The International Series
    Date: Tue, 22 Oct 2013 17:02:29 -0400


    I think there are four reasons why the NFL will struggle to make a London franchise a success. They are logistics, stadium, regulation and free agency. Fan support? That's a toss-up.

    Logistics: Right now, anyone can and does play anyone in the NFL. Put a team in London and that cannot happen. It's not reasonable to ask a London team to make a couple of West Coast trips each season. Seattle is 10 hours and several time zones away. Dallas is 9 hours, Chicago 8. That much travel would be a huge burden on a London team. It would compel the NFL to mold a London-only schedule. Doing that would raise competitive fairness issues.

    Free agency: The travel schedule is just one reason why no free agent would want to sign with a London team. Another is the distance from loved ones. A third is the foreign culture. London's nice to visit, but living there is another matter. A London team would have to overpay for free agents. Again, we run into the issue of competitive fairness.

    Stadium: Where do you put a NFL stadium in London, and how do you pay to build it? They can't play at Wembley. The London owner wouldn't own the concession money at Wembley and he'd have to pay rent to the stadium owner, the Football Association. So he has to build his own. That's a billion-dollar problem. No city council is going to pay to build a stadium, simply won't happen. And even if he has the money, where does he put it? London real estate is absurdly expensive and scarce. Since the city doesn't have a car culture, the location will have to be close to the tube. And if he solves all that, remember that he doesn't get parking revenue because nobody drives.

    Regulatory: The NFL is anti-competitive. The draft, the salary cap, rookie contracts -- these are antithetical to the European Union. I'm not sure how the NFL overcomes these regulatory and legal barriers.

    Fans: This one's a toss-up. Right now, the two NFL games in London are a party. The audience is American football fans of all teams. How many would they change their affiliation to a London team? That's unknowable. Support for sports teams in England is highly localized, down to the neighborhood. Will a fan from North London support, say, a team located south of the Thames? And are there enough NFL fans in general? Especially when the NFL season goes head-t-head with England's most popular sport, association football.

    The NFL will play a third game in London in 2014. I'm sure they're doing it to test the depth of support for the NFL in England. But the real questions will go unanswered until the NFL actually puts a team in London.



    From: Brian
    To: wxwax
    Subject: RE: Zone Blitz: The International Series
    Date: Wed, 23 Oct 2013 00:18:08 -0400


    I agree with you wholeheartedly that a permanent franchise overseas will not work. Logistics has always been my biggest concern. The travel on each end will pay a huge toll on each team, significantly altering the competitive balance. Also, prime time games will not be an option in England, since those games wouldn't start until 1:30 AM local time. Your points on Free Agency as well as the stadium issues are also spot on. Seriously, I wish I could disagree with you here somewhere, but I can't.

    Your answer regarding the Regulatory issues in the European Union is spot on, and fascinating. That's exactly the reason why you're the perfect person for this discussion. I never thought about sports in the US being "anti-competitive", making it structurally different than sports in the European Union. Specifically, for people who are either novices (me), or completely ignorant regarding European football, with no regulations, how are the rosters for a European football club built? Are the lower divisions simply "minor leagues", so to speak, with the top clubs picking off the cream? I'm sure that if the NFL and London were to come to an agreement on the structure for a permanent NFL team, part of the negotiations would include the legal ramifications of the league structure, but this is certainly an interesting road block I had not thought of.

    In America, when we think of localized support, I think the best examples are in baseball. The New York, LA, and Chicago markets all share a team. Of those three, I think the closest localization that we see in our major professional sports is in the Windy City, where both the Cubs and White Sox have been established for over a century. The Cubs are pretty clearly defined as the team from the North Side, and the White Sox rule the South Side. However, when it comes to the NBA, NHL, or NFL, those divisions go away, and the affiliation for the Bulls, Blackhawks, and Bears is as strong as in any city in the country. Is the localized sports-related hatred over in England so ingrained within their culture that it will be impossible for them to overcome and unite over one professional American football team?

    With the party atmosphere for NFL games in England, as opposed to a fiercely loyal fan base for one team, doesn't that make London an interesting candidate for a Super Bowl? The Super Bowl has become much more about partying and commercialism in our country than anything else, so a move to London, while seemingly blasphemous, may actually make some sense. There could be some problems logistically, since the NFL has moved the Super Bowl over the years from mid day (Super Bowl X was CBS's pre show for the PGA Phoenix Open) closer to prime time (Super Bowl XXVI was the first to start after 6:00 PM EST). If they were to hold a game in London, it would likely mean moving the kickoff to 8:00 local time in London, which would be 3 in the Eastern Time Zone, and Noon out west. Is that something the NFL would honestly be willing to consider?

    Looking off far into the future, I don't think there's any way a single NFL team, or even a division of teams can survive in England. The only possible way for a league like the NFL to find success overseas, in my view, is if they can somehow find a way to create an entire European conference, and treat the separate European and American conferences in the exact manner that baseball used to treat the American and National Leagues. The conferences would have to be completely separate, and only meet in a true "World Championship" event at the close of the season. I suppose a limited inter-conference schedule may work, but a full implementation of matchups involving a team or teams in London that are fully functioning on a US schedule is something that will not work, for all of the reasons that you mentioned above.

    Wax, I really appreciate you doing this. To conclude things on my end, I'd like to throw out one more hypothetical, in an effort to help understand the mindset of fans in England vs. fans in the US. Do you think a London NFL franchise would be more popular in England than a US-based EPL franchise (pick a city) would be in the United States?



    From: wxwax
    To: Brian
    Subject: RE: Zone Blitz: The International Series
    Date: Wed, 23 Oct 2013 02:10:25 -0400


    Wow, you've asked some really interesting questions.

    I'll answer your last one first: Would a Premier League franchise do better in the US than a NFL franchise would do in England? I think the answer is yes... if you put it in the right city. The Seattle Sounders average 42,000 fans for MLS, a second-rate league. Chelsea draws more than that when they play exhibitions here. It's pretty clear that the Premier League has made deep inroads in the US sports marketplace. Leaving aside the impossible logistics, I think a Prem club would thrive in the right US environment.

    The way European soccer finds and signs talent is very different to any US sport. Put simply, the bigger clubs buy young players from the smaller clubs which have developed them. The search for talent is literally global. My team, Chelsea, has players from Cameroon, Brazil, Czech Republic, Spain, Serbia, Belgium, England, Nigeria, Germany, Australia and more.

    When a player's contract expires he is literally a free agent. His old club gets no compensation. That's why valuable players rarely play out their contracts. They're traded or sign a new contract before they begin their last year, while their old club still has the leverage to make a deal.

    Are teams in a given country's lower leagues owned by the rich clubs? As far as I know, only Barcelona and Real Madrid, in Spain, do. In England, even the smallest lower division club has local pride and history and is fiercely independent. The idea of farm teams is being mooted as a way of developing young English talent, but the idea is embryonic and may go nowhere.

    I don't know whether soccer's tribalism would extend to a NFL team. Quite possibly it wouldn't. But it's unknowable until they try it. A very expensive experiment!

    I can't see a Super Bowl in London. There's no way the NFL would forgo the revenue of prime time TV in the United States. Kickoff in London would be 11:30pm. Given the limits of public transportation, fans wouldn't be able to get home at 3am. It seems logistically impossible to me.

    I think the whole NFL London thing isn't about a team, it's about selling TV rights. TV is the NFL's single biggest source of revenue. It makes sense to expand the market for their product. The Premier League TV package sells worldwide and claims a potential audience of over 4 billion people. TV revenue is anticipated to be around $3.2 billion a year between now and 2016.

    That, I think, is the money that the NFL is chasing and is the reason why so many Americans own Premier League teams.

    Good discussion, trumpet! Thanks for inviting me to share it with you.

    Comments 24 Comments
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      This weekend marks the renewal of the International Series!!! Don't worry, this article doesn't tackle a breakdown of the 49ers-Jaguars matchup. It's simply wax bringing the heat when it comes to the NFL's plan across the pond. He absolutely killed it. Feel free to join the discussion below. Can the NFL continue to find success overseas?
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      I'd sure like to hear form someone who is well informed about the regulatory hurdles the EC would raise for the NFL. I took a stab at it, but there are nuances I know nothing about.
    1. Bengals1181's Avatar
      IMO it will never be feasible to move a team to London. It will never happen. And if they do put a team in Europe, they won't be able to add just one. They'll have to add at least two, so that when a team goes over to play one, they stay and play both. The European teams will have to spend multiple weeks in the states playing 3-4 road games in a row. It just won't work.

      What you'll see, is similar to what we're seeing now. Multiple games, but by different teams. I think we'll see it get as big as maybe 5 games a year, involving 10 different teams. That way, you get a lot of exposure overseas, but never have to move one single team.


      Interesting fact, and I don't know if other teams have similar contracts, but the Cincinnati Bengals stadium lease states that all home games must be played at Paul Brown Stadium. Until that lease changes (it runs through 2026), the Bengals will never have to host a home game in London. They of course could be selected as a visiting team. Would be interesting to know what other teams have that clause in their stadium leases.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      Since the goal of this thing is to sell international TV packages, I wonder how much attention the London games get in the rest of Europe? Does anyone in France care that a NFL game is being played in London? If not, the strategy won't work.
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Bengals1181 View Post
      Interesting fact, and I don't know if other teams have similar contracts, but the Cincinnati Bengals stadium lease states that all home games must be played at Paul Brown Stadium. Until that lease changes (it runs through 2026), the Bengals will never have to host a home game in London. They of course could be selected as a visiting team. Would be interesting to know what other teams have that clause in their stadium leases.
      It's no coincidence that the teams to have hosted these games include teams with either a shared ownership interest in both the NFL and EPL, or are teams that struggle to sell out their home games.

      Next year's games were announced earlier today. The Jags will host the Cowboys, the Falcons will host the Lions, and the Raiders will host the Dolphins.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      The Falcons are well supported here.
    1. msclemons's Avatar
      "Hey London! Ignore that soccer stuff and see what REAL football is all about! The Jaguars!"

      I'm expecting Britain will bomb NYC next Monday.
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by wxwax View Post
      The Falcons are well supported here.
      They are, but with a new stadium on the horizon, and thus a lease that's expiring, that probably made them more available. Similar to the Vikings this year.
    1. mkocs6's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by wxwax View Post
      Since the goal of this thing is to sell international TV packages, I wonder how much attention the London games get in the rest of Europe? Does anyone in France care that a NFL game is being played in London? If not, the strategy won't work.
      No idea and this is a great point. Since London really can't work as a location for an expansion team or as a site for a current team to move to, why do they continue to play there exclusively? Why not Madrid or Paris or Berlin? These are giant cities. Are they afraid no one would show there? And why would a soccer culture that speaks English be more likely to buy tickets than one that speaks Spanish or French or German? Is a full stadium dependent upon a comparatively large American expat community, which may be larger in England than it is anywhere on the continent (though in those capitals, at least, it would have to be substantial)?
    1. mikesteelnation1's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by msclemons View Post
      "Hey London! Ignore that soccer stuff and see what REAL football is all about! The Jaguars!"

      I'm expecting Britain will bomb NYC next Monday.
      The way it's currently done, some slub team (south jax high) in this case, agrees to be the home team. Then a legit large fan base team is brought in as the visitor.

      That won't change going forward, especially for the teams that have sold out their home games forever. The packers, redskins, Broncos, and Steelers have never suffered a non sell out in 40 years. (Giants since '75, jets since 77', niners since '81). Additionally the ravens and Texans have never not sold out. All these teams have fiercely loyal fan bases, and A LOT of them require purchases of PSL to even have the rights to buy season tickets. There are also quite a few clubs not listed that also require the purchase of a psl.

      None of the owners of these teams could possibly give away a home game to play abroad. Not only does it not make sense financially, the fan base would riot. In their home stadiums, these teams make $$ from parking and concessions, $$ they don't get in London. Because of this, every London game is doomed to feature a bottom dweller (or 2 in the vikes/Steelers case, but to be fair that looked like a good matchup preseason).

      IMO there won't be a fulltime London team for a very long time. Too many obstacles and drawbacks. Too many legal issues and SOOOOO many players being super vocal about NOT playing for that team. I personally believe if the NFL wants to grow the fastest internationally, their efforts should be directed to Mexico city. There's already a large LOCAL, not ex pat fan base there, and the travel isn't so bad.

      Mexicans are much more accepting of American football than Europeans will ever be. America is the land of dreams for many of them, so something so American is embraced with open arms. This is my opinion because so many of my employees are 1st or 2nd gen Americans, and they LOVE the Texans or cowboys. Like wide eyed, little kid love them. They still love soccer, and their favorite team there, but they don't compare the two sports, ever. They love them both. I don't know if the NFL would ever gain that level of acceptance in London.

      The NFL seems like a cool event in London to me, not something the locals would be die hard about if they had a team there. IMO Londoners love their soccer, and the NFL is a cool dalliance a few times a year. Justfrom watching the Steelers game this year, it tells me something. The crowd was pretty flaccid throughout. It's was like people went for the "event" because it was the "happening" thing. If it were a regular thing, not an "event" like it is now, how much less enticing is it going to be to attend?
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      The NFL needs to think of North/South expansion. Brazil, Mexico, Canada e.g.. The travel/time zone issues alone are enough to make a London franchise a non-starter.
    1. Pruitt's Avatar
      How thrilled must the 49ers be? Flying from Nashville to San Francisco (4 1/2 hours) and then from San Francisco to London (12 hours) within a day or two.
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Pruitt View Post
      How thrilled must the 49ers be? Flying from Nashville to San Francisco (4 1/2 hours) and then from San Francisco to London (12 hours) within a day or two.
      I think the Niners just went straight to London from Nashville.
    1. Bengals1181's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Trumpetbdw View Post
      It's no coincidence that the teams to have hosted these games include teams with either a shared ownership interest in both the NFL and EPL, or are teams that struggle to sell out their home games.

      Next year's games were announced earlier today. The Jags will host the Cowboys, the Falcons will host the Lions, and the Raiders will host the Dolphins.
      the odd thing to me there is, Dallas at Jax would probably be one of the highest attendance games for the Jags next season. Dallas fans travel well.

      You'd think if they wanted to have Jax host a game there, they'd choose a team that doesn't travel well. You'd think maybe an up and coming team like Cleveland would have made more sense. Then again, the NFL is probably coming at it from a TV viewership standpoint rather than caring about how much revenue it's taking away from the Jags home schedule. Does the home team get a portion of the gate in London?
    1. Pruitt's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Trumpetbdw View Post
      I think the Niners just went straight to London from Nashville.
      Early morning brain cramp on my part - of course they would have.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Sullivan View Post
      The NFL needs to think of North/South expansion. Brazil, Mexico, Canada e.g.. The travel/time zone issues alone are enough to make a London franchise a non-starter.
      That's logical if the goal were to add more teams. But I don't believe that's the goal. The real money is in selling the NFL TV package to new markets. Adding Mexico and Canada doesn't achieve that. The NFL needs international exposure, which is why I believe London gets so much play. Combined, all the markets in Europe would make a tidy chunk of change. If they could figure out a way to get a team in Asia they'd be all over it.
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      Are we looking at an eventual regular season game in China? Russia? Japan? Or is the travel/time issue going to be too great of a disruption for a regular season game?

      The North/South point is one I was going to mention in the article, but with wax's first response, I wanted to stick with the London angle. They did a game in Mexico City with SF and Arizona about 8 years ago or so. Doesn't seem like they're interested in going back, even though it was wildly popular in Mexico, if I recall.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      Asia's an interesting discussion. For us North Americans, it's tempting to think of Asia as a monolith. Obviously, it's not. So a game in Japan might not get any play in China, and vice versa. Also, you have to wonder how many people would show up? I have no idea what the awareness level is of the NFL in Asia's largest markets.

      Soccer, especially the Premier League, makes annual treks to Asia for pre-season games. This summer Chelsea played in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The stands were packed, with a very high percentage of the spectators wearing Chelsea shirts.

      So Premier League clubs not only get TV money from Asia, but they also sell a lot of shirts. Shirt sales revenue is the reason they change the design of all three (home away, alternate) shirts every single season.
    1. msclemons's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Trumpetbdw View Post
      I think the Niners just went straight to London from Nashville.
      They did. Glad I'm not with them, I'm a total wimp when it comes to jet-lag.
    1. hobbes27's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Trumpetbdw View Post
      It's no coincidence that the teams to have hosted these games include teams with either a shared ownership interest in both the NFL and EPL, or are teams that struggle to sell out their home games.

      Next year's games were announced earlier today. The Jags will host the Cowboys, the Falcons will host the Lions, and the Raiders will host the Dolphins.
      One of the things I don't understand is how certain road teams are scheduled for these series. The Cowboys are a huge draw wherever they play. Why would the Jags agree to their one home game in London being against a team that draws well. It would make sense if the road team involved isn't a huge draw.