A story by the BBC stating that an NFL executive predicted a National Football league franchise team in London, England, within the next six years caused sent a buzz through the football world Wednesday morning. But by Wednesday afternoon, the NFL shot down the report, saying that whole thing had been a big misundertstanding.
There was only one problem with the NFL’s denial. The league’s own commissioner, Roger Goodell, has already said that London — which hosted three regular season NFL games in 2015 after the same number in 2014 — could be home to a team as soon as 2019. The idea of placing a team in London also has the support of one prominent NFL owner, the New England Patriots Robert Kraft.
According to the report aired by the BBC, the NFL executive vice president for international development, Mark Waller, stated that “The U.K. will have its own American football franchise within six years.”
“The fan base is big enough and passionate enough that it can support a franchise,” the BBC quoted Waller as saying. “I felt in 2007 it was always a 15-year journey. I think we’re on track to deliver that. I fundamentally believe we will deliver that.”
Apparently, however, the BBC reporters simply took the liberty of adding 15 years to 2007 and came up with the year 2022 — six years from 2016 — as a projection for when the NFL will have a team in London.
But NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said later on Wednesday that the BBC was jumping to conclusions and that Waller did not intend to commit to specific time frame for putting a team in London at all.
“What Mark Waller said was that when the International Series began in 2007, he felt that in 15 years, if things proceeded successfully, ownership may be in a position to make a decision about having a permanent franchise in the U.K.,” McCarthy said.
However, the report is not out of line with previous statements from the NFL’s own commissioner, Roger Goodell.
Speaking in July of 2014, Goodell gave a similar time frame when asked about placing an NFL franchise in the United Kingdom — where soccer is king — after the league’s games at Wembley Stadium there attracted crowds of 80,000 people, at least according to the NFL’s own attendance figures.
“We couldn’t be happier with what we’re seeing,” Goodell said at that time. “We actually couldn’t be more surprised by the tremendous demand for NFL football in London, in the U.K. in general, and frankly in Europe. So it’s not something that I think is 15 or 20 years away. It could be five or 10 years away.”
Five years from 2014 would place an NFL team in London not just by 2022, but by 2019.
The below mini-documentary video presents a brief history of the NFL in London.
Placing a team in London presents some obvious logistical problems, with London more than 3,500 miles from the United States east coast, and five hours ahead. Pitting the hyopthetical London team against a west coast opponent would be even more awkward with a time difference of eight hours and flight of more 5,500 miles.
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United States-based soccer fans are already accustomed to waking up for games in England’s Premier league that start as early as 4:30 a.m. Pacific Time. Whether NFL fans, or for that matter NFL teams, would put up with the time and distance issues on a weekly basis is not yet clear.
“I’m not necessarily sold on the idea that we need to have a team there to be successful,” Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney said. “Unless someone brings back the Concorde.”
The Jacksonville Jaguars have played a game in London in each of the last three NFL seasons and are scheduled to return there in the 2016 seaosn — and their billionaire owner Shahid Khan also owns the English soccer team Fulham F.C. But Khan has said that he has “no plans” to relocate the Jacksonville franchise permanently to London.
[Featured Photo By Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images]