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Hartnett: Will the NFL cross the pond? (Oct. 10)

Brian Hartnett | Wednesday, October 9, 2013

This Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars will take the field as 27.5-point underdogs against ageless wonder Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos squad.

A few years from now, there’s a chance the Jaguars might once again be four touchdown underdogs, but there’s an even greater likelihood that they’ll do it in their new iteration, as the London [Insert Nickname Here] (My personal votes: the Fogs, Bridges or Guards).

Yes, it’s no secret the NFL is looking to step out of its large American footprint and go global. The league, which has played one game in London every year since 2007, expanded its international series to include two games in England’s capital this season and three games there next season.

From all accounts, the London series have been very successful, with tickets selling out in minutes and a largely British crowd filling up Wembley Stadium. It’s had this success in spite of the fact that participants in the game have included a 0-8 Dolphins team, 0-7 Buccaneers team and 3-5 Rams squad. The centerpiece of the series for the foreseeable future is actually the middling Jaguars, who are scheduled to play a home game in London the next four seasons, including one against the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 27.

As such, the Jaguars, the team most often faced with the threat of relocation, are commonly rumored to be London’s future NFL franchise. And on the surface, this doesn’t seem like a bad idea – the Jaguars have had some of the lowest attendance figures in the league the last few seasons. They’re a team with few superstars that plays in one of the NFL’s smallest markets.

But on the other hand, the relocation of a team in America’s most popular sports league to London would present logistical challenges that would be nearly impossible to overcome.

First, there’s the elephant in the room: travel schedules. Currently, the furthest distance between two NFL franchises is the 2722 miles and approximately six-hour flight that separate Seattle and Miami. The closest franchise to London? The New England Patriots, which play 3281 miles and approximately seven hours away.

This distance doesn’t seem insurmountable to a team that would only play in London every four years. But it would be an obstacle to a team that’s in the same division as the London franchise and would need to cross the pond at least once each season.

Sure, the visiting team could receive a bye the week after playing in London. But with bye weeks being a precious commodity in the action-packed NFL season, is it really fair to make a team use up its bye week in September or not get a week off until December?

Then there’s the issue of attracting quality players. While London might be a more attractive place to live than nearly any American city, few established veterans would be willing to drop everything they have and move to a new city on another continent where football plays second fiddle to another form of football and endorsements are not as plentiful. Several players have already criticized a potential relocation to London – Rams defensive end Chris Long recently said he would “be absolutely livid” if his team relocated there and noted that moving a team there would be “like punishment.”

And finally, there’s the issue of sustained support. This is not intended as a dig at the people of London, a city I will be calling my home just three months from now, but it’s easy for fans to come out and support a one-time game. How many fans will pick the NFL over the EPL every Sunday? My guess is that we have as much chance knowing whether Londoners would support a relocated NFL franchise as we do knowing whether fans in an American city would support a mid-level EPL team like Fulham.

In comparison to all the issues that have occurred in Roger Goodell’s tenure as NFL commissioner, I find the issue of international games to be of low importance. However, I don’t like the expansion of the international series as a way to test the waters for an idea seemingly destined to fail, especially when it causes high-drawing teams like Atlanta to lose a home game as it will next season.

Essentially, the idea of expansion to London is about as bad an idea as awarding Jacksonville a franchise in the first place. And unlike some of the problems in Jacksonville, the problems in London won’t exactly be cured with a prescription of “Tebowmania.”

Contact Brian Hartnett at [email protected]
The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.