International Series – What next?

This year’s International Series was wrapped up over the weekend with a thrilling 27-27 tie between the Washington (cringes) Redskins and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Besides a winner, the game had it all. Touchdowns, interceptions, fumbles, missed field goals. It was one of the best London games yet and attracted a massive crowd of 84,448. Opinions on the games across the pond are divided, but it’s clear that the UK has greeted American football with open arms.

We know the NFL is serious about growing the game in Britain, but we don’t really know their long-term plan. So, what’s next?

More games?

NFL UK director Alistair Kirkwood has suggested that up to four games could be in London next year. Wembley Stadium will be used by the NFL for at least two games a year until 2020, while Twickenham will be available for a minimum of one game per year for 2017 and 2018.

If that isn’t enough, the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium is going to be available for use for at least two games a year from 2018. There will also be an American Football field installed under the turf, ensuring a smooth transition from British to American football surfaces.

It’s clear that the NFL are properly invested in the English market, but will they be able to attract enough teams to London to offer an attractive selection of games? Let’s be honest, there haven’t been any true blockbuster matchups in the UK yet and, while the games have been well-received, there’s no evidence that doubling the number of them will prove to be successful. Adding more mediocre games could leave fanatics frustrated and there’s no telling if casual fans would stick around after the next few years.

Ultimately, if the NFL opts for more games, they may need to work harder to attract teams and create some stand-out contests without upsetting American fans. If they find a way to do this, it’ll show the NFL’s real intentions to become a truly international league.

A London team?

If you’ve watched Sky’s coverage of the NFL in recent years, you’ll have heard about the possibility of a London team almost every single week. The desire for a British franchise appears to be the NFL’s worst kept secret and the Colts playing in the UK without a subsequent bye was seen by some as the next step in testing the feasibility of a London team.

The announcement of an American football field at the new Spurs ground has only added fuel to the fire, but there’s much more work to be done before a British team can become a reality.

Obviously, the distance is a major issue. The longest distance in the league is Miami to Seattle (around 3,300 miles). A potential London team would have to make this kind of trip every week to the east coast, while west coast matches would involve over 4,000 miles of travelling.

In a league where one bye week is simply not enough and players are rightfully questioning the safety concerns regarding Thursday Night Football, it’s hard to see how players would be keen on the extra air miles. Plus, being drafted to the UK may not necessarily be seen as a favourable career move for players when they could move to an established US franchise instead.

For a London team to work, the NFL should consider spreading the same number of games across a longer season and adding more bye weeks to protect players. Then, it’s just the matter of convincing the NFLPA and the league’s owners that an overseas team would be good for the sport, rather than a short-term cash-cow.

However, if the games increase and the crowds keep coming, the league could try to find a way to make it work, but it won’t be easy.