It seems like Roger Goodell is bent on getting some NFL games in London, and now we might be looking at two games in London and the Super Bowl.
My feeling on this "NFL in London" thing is that the NFL is taking a huge risk that NFL fans are just going to go along with it. You never know what might end up alienating your fans. The global strategy is fine, but you better make sure your American fanbase (which is your bread and butter) is strong. The NBA made this mistake several years ago. They went all-in on this Europe/Asia and "inner city America" strategy, and it alienated the rest of America. Now the NBA is loaded with great young players and exciting talent, but their tv ratings still stink and half the teams in the league are bankrupt. Yea, people in China are geeked about the NBA, but the vast majority of American sports fans don't watch the NBA until the playoffs (if they even watch it at all). The NHL has made mistakes as well with their expansion plans. They got so carried away with new markets in the south and west that they forgot about their core brand in the north and in Canada. They are still recovering from those mistakes and may never recover.
It will be interesting to see how far the NFL takes this strategy. I'll say this, if NFL franchises are suddenly owned by a bunch of Saudis and Euros, the league is going to dry up in the US like a prune. It would be a HUGE mistake. Part of the reason why people love the NFL is because it is the ultimate American game. Every single player in the NFL is an American, and football is virtually 100% American from high school to college to pro. It's the one "pure" sport in terms of nationality. No Euros, no Dominicans, no Asians, etc.
Why is the NFL so determined to expand the game to Europe anyway?? Do Europeans care about American football at all? Are NFL games even on tv over there?? Do they know any players?? Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, etc?? How can Europeans get into the NFL if they have no access to the games other than that one game in London?? The NFL Europe didn't work at all, so I don't see where this perceived demand for NFL football comes from.
Is it really going to expand the brand that much to have a game in Europe?? Why aren't any of the European sports bringing their game over here if that was the case?? Is the English Premier League planning to hold its title game in New York City any time soon?? Not that I hear.
Another thing about these regular season games in Europe is that you are taking away a home game from one of the teams!! Isn't that a major competitive disadvantage?? The Bucs are only going to play seven home games while the rest of the NFL plays eight. That game in London isn't exactly going to be a home game for Tampa Bay.
Plus, isn't this move a killer for the Tampa Bay fans?? Imagine if you were a Tampa Bay season ticketholder and the biggest game of the year against New England is being moved to London?
Before the NFL moves on to Europe, why not make an effort to expand the game more in the good ole US of A?? If you're going to move football games to other cities, how about Los Angeles?? The second biggest media market in the country hasn't hosted an NFL regular season game this decade! How are they going to play a game in London when they aren't even playing games in Los Angeles?? At least people in Los Angeles understand the league and the game. Couldn't the Chargers or Cardinals or Raiders play a game in LA to drum up support for the league?? I don't understand that logic.
Or how about a college city like Austin or Columbus?? Columbus is a pretty big NFL town, and they have a 100,000 seat stadium just waiting to be used. It seems like there are opportunities to promote the game in the US if you wanted to do it.
Personally, I'd rather just forget the neutral site thing. The Euros don't seem to care about it, so no sense in shoving it down their throat at the expense of your American season ticketholders who are missing home games.
As far as the Super Bowl in London goes, I don't care if you do it. I'd prefer to keep the Super Bowl in the US, but it doesn't bother me as much to do the Super Bowl there as it does taking a regular season game out of a city. The Super Bowl is a corporate event and a tourist event. It's not like typical American NFL fans are going to the Super Bowl anyway, so do it in London if you want. Maybe the spectacle of the game in a foreign country would be a huge ratings thing for the NFL even if people over there don't care about football.
The only downside that I can see is that the Super Bowl is a huge economic engine for some of these American cities. These coastal US cities make BILLIONS of dollars on the Super Bowl and all the hoopla surrounding it. Moving the Super Bowl to London takes away a possible huge moneymaker for a city like San Diego or Miami or New Orleans or Phoenix. Wouldn't it be a nice gesture to do a Super Bowl again in New Orleans instead of London?
Plus, London is cold!! It's going to be 40 degrees and cold in January in London, and it's an outdoor stadium. It would be the equivalent of hosting the Super Bowl in New York City. Are players and fans going to be happy about the Super Bowl in cold weather when they could have easily played the game in 75 degree weather in San Diego??
Anyway, I don't care enough about the NFL to boycott the league or something if they move a bunch of games to Europe, but I do think the NFL is walking a thin line here. Overexpanding doesn't always work if you get outside of your core constituency. We've seen these mistakes in other leagues. If Americans start feeling neglected by the NFL and that the league has become "too Euro", they are going to find something else to do with their Sunday afternoons. Plenty of yardwork to be done in the fall on Sundays. Or they might just turn their attention to college football, which would be fine with me.
I'll end with a bold prediction. I know the ratings are probably still through the roof, but I think interest in the NFL has peaked. I think the league is SLIGHTLY on the decline, and I'm not sure Goodell realizes it. Goodell is a bold guy and he is still running this league like it's on a never-ending spiral upward, but I think they would benefit from some defensive moves to solidify their base of fans. I am an admitted sports junkie, but my interest in the NFL was NBA-esque in 2008. I barely watched any NFL action until the playoffs (which admittedly are always phenomenal). If the goal is to keep people like myself interested in the NFL for the next 40-50 years, I think the league might want to think about a different approach than "expand globally" and "start franchises in Europe." How about focusing on making your product more compelling before you get into all that??
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