The NFL International Committee last week told the 32 teams it was looking into the possibility of getting funding for the purpose of building a football stadium in London, England. It was stressed to the teams that this is an exploratory idea at this moment. Ever since the NFL started playing games in London in 2007 there have been rumours that the NFL plans to put a franchise in London on a permanent basis. These rumours have gathered even more recent years with commissioner Rodger Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft both publicly supporting the idea of a franchise taking permanent residency and so the league continues to explore expanding their NFL London experiment sometime in the future.
With so many other factors to consider before an NFL franchise could be awarded to London let’s take a look at where exactly could this team play its home games should they get the go ahead.
Purpose Built Stadium – This option would be the ideal for the NFL as they would have total control of the venue and how it was used. It could even hire out the venue during the off-season for concerts and other events as a way of maintaining revenue streams. However the cost and practicality of this option will more than likely rule this option out. The NFL will be looking for at least a 60,000 capacity stadium and the three recent additions to that bracket in London, namely Wembley Stadium, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and the Stratford Olympic Stadium cost $1.4 billion, $780 million and $833 million respectively. With many new stadia in the US public funding is used to generate some of the capital needed to build the stadium, but as London’s clubs have had to fund their own stadiums it is very unlikely that the local government would consider putting public money into another new stadium. The NFL could fund the stadium privately of course but there would be other hurdles such as location and planning permission. Currently London has approximately 20 professional sports stadium with some due to be developed as clubs build new grounds in their local area. It will not be easy to find space for such a large new stadium as clubs like Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have found when trying to develop a new ground.
Ground Share with another team – To ground share with a local team would present only a couple of options. None of London’s rugby teams who own their own ground would be an option as their stadia don’t have the capacity and this would rule out all but a couple of soccer teams too. Currently only Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and the soon to be completed refurbished Olympic Stadium that West Ham will call home would be big enough. Of course Tottenham and Chelsea’s plans for bigger stadiums could add to this list however the main problem with this option would be Premier League Rules. Premier League rules state that a club must have primacy over its ground so if said football team wants to move a game to a Sunday for television or after a European game it must have the right to do so. I can’t see the NFL willing to chop and change its fixture schedule to fit in around the ever changing Premier League fixtures.
Wembley or Twickenham – This is the option that makes the most sense in the short term. Both the FA and the RFU have grounds which are not utilized on a weekly basis, and rarely on a Sunday during the NFL season. Both have required capacity and could be compatible with current rules and events held at the stadiums. A problem with either could be the effect on the pitch especially with Wembley. With eight NFL games to add to their existing schedules the pitches could be torn up which would be a disadvantage for either the FA or RFU and maybe something that makes them think twice about an arrangement. Wembley especially has had issues with pitches and inclement weather led to the surface being damaged after the 2007 game between the Dolphins and Giants.
In conclusion there are a couple of options open to the NFL as to where a franchise could play but there are hurdles and drawbacks to each. There are many other hurdles for a London franchise to overcome before it comes to pass but the fact that they are looking at a stadium of their own shows that the NFL are serious about putting a franchise in London and when that happens it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the NFL make a home for themselves at either the home of English Rugby or Soccer.
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