National / Sports / October 29, 2009

American football in London

This past Saturday, I did my usual market hopping across London. On my way to a used book market at Gabriel’s Wharf, I saw a sight to behold: a man, about in his mid-thirties, walking across Westminster Bridge in a St. Louis Rams jersey.

Sadly, I didn’t get a good enough look to see which Ram this gentleman was representing (my money’s on Isaac Bruce) because just as he passed, another man walked by wearing a Miami Dolphins jersey. When I saw that this man was donning the jersey of one Zach Thomas, I nearly stumbled over the edge into the River Thames. Just then, I noticed a family of four in Tampa Bay Buccaneers gear — and then I remembered, “Oh yeah, the NFL is here this weekend. Heh.”

If not for this influx of bizarre NFL jerseys, I would have had no idea. While the American media and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell are playing up the attendance figures as evidence that a team could one day set up shop in London, I’m here to tell you something: don’t buy it. Mark my words, there is a better chance the XFL rises from the dead and upstages the NFL in the next five years than an NFL team succeeding in the UK.

You may ask why I say this, given that there were 84,000 plus people in attendance at Sunday’s ceremonial thrashing? Because British people, by and large, do not care about American football.

Further, the media doesn’t care. I had to flip about ten pages deep into Monday’s Evening Standard before finding any mention of the NFL — which consisted of a tiny inset photo of Randy Moss and two sentences about the game.

If American football somehow made its way across the Atlantic on the highest level (i.e. not NFL Europe), it would be below the following sports in terms of fanfare: football, rugby, cricket, tennis, golf and maybe basketball. The NFL has more than likely passed Major League Baseball as the premiere professional league in America, so why bother venturing to a market where the interest is so minimal?

I’m guessing greed and stupidity. Goodell and the owners see 84,000 people show up to a one game showcase and overestimate its significance. They see dollar signs in adding a new team, a new revenue stream and an opportunity to profit from the weak American dollar. Well, that covers the greed and part of the stupidity — but there’s something more to this: watering down the talent level of the NFL.

I watched my beloved and mediocre Green Bay Packers tear the Cleveland Browns limb from limb on Sunday. I watched the woeful New York Jets blank the Raiders. I watched the Colts dismantle the Rams. The league is already too big, there are already too many marginal teams and, if you ask me, contraction should be considered long before expansion.

But none of that really matters to Goodell and company, as the prospect of profits and global expansion matter more than putting a quality league together. I’m just glad I’ll be departing London before the NFL embarrasses itself in the UK.

Kevin Morris

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