BOSTON (CBS) — This weekend, Roger Goodell’s never-ending quest to destroy the NFL while simultaneously making the most money possible continues, and we will be treated to yet another neutral site, regular-season game in London. The New York Jets will play the Miami Dolphins in a game that serves mainly as an excuse for NFL fans to start drinking at 9:30 a.m. on a Sunday.
For British sports fans, however, it’s just a mildly interesting oddity. But don’t tell that to NFL ownership. The more time and capital the NFL spends doing these exhibitions in London, the louder the scuttlebutt gets about the NFL actually moving a franchise there permanently.
To put it bluntly, an NFL franchise based in London would be the crown jewel in Roger Goodell’s illustrious career of terrible ideas.
The only reason why the NFL would want to do this is cash. It’s a completely new market, with new TV licenses to sell, advertisers to cater to and fans to fleece. This isn’t about expanding the game or making the sport an international phenomenon. It’s about creating another payday for the owners at the expense of their fans. And it’s doomed to fail.
Great Britain isn’t some wannabe metropolis with football craving bumpkins like Charlotte or Indianapolis. It’s a country with a culture and interests that do not include the NFL or American football in general. There is only a “market” for the game here because the NFL wants there to be one.
This will not work for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is they already have a similar and superior product: Rugby.
As Americans who grow up as slaves to NFL Sundays, this seems like pure blasphemy, but to the British, it’s a stone cold fact. Rugby (from which American football originates) is a very similar game, with better officiating, played at a faster pace, with fewer interruptions. The refs are wired for real time sound and are actually competent. Rugby has a faster and more transparent video replay system. There are no helmets, so star players are identifiable and easier to relate to. The game hasn’t been bastardized for fantasy leagues.
There are far fewer breaks between plays, and most importantly, no commercials! Rugby has two 40-minute halves of non-stop action, just like soccer has two 45- minute commercial-free halves. Because of this, the English are culturally conditioned to expect constant gameplay with passive advertising (on-field graphics, sponsorship-riddled uniforms). You think the Brits are going to tune in for a slower, poorly adjudicated contest that stops every five minutes for the same commercials for one-day fantasy, pizza, cars and insurance? Goodell’s better off selling them toothpaste.
Long term, the location itself won’t allow London to field a competitive team. You think a big name free agent is going to London? Ha! Forget it. The tax rate is hideous, the food is terrible and the Jets actually feel the need to airlift in acceptable toilet paper. It’s obvious that the only players London will attract are the guys they grossly overpay, the washed-up, looking-for-one-more-check player and the guys they draft. Players thought getting franchised was bad in America? Guys who get tagged by the London Fog will be defecting on road trips like Cubans.
Oh, and speaking of road trips, how do you think a West Coast team is going to feel about a 10-hour plane flight with an eight-hour time zone difference? West Cost teams playing 1 o’clock games on the East Coast already lay a Hot Peyton. San Diego and Oakland might be better off forfeiting because they’re going to need more than a sleep coach and a few rolls of Quilted Northern to cope with travel this punitive.
But they’ll only have to make that trip once a season. The London team will be completely legless on the road but lucky for them, nobody in jolly old England will be watching. A 4 p.m. West Coast game will air at 9 p.m. in England, and you can literally never have the London team in a prime-time match up. No Thursday Night Football, no Sunday Night Football and no Monday Night Football. Only Roger Goodell would be dumb enough to invest in a flagship European franchise that could never be on any of its three weekly ratings showcases because you can’t sell pizza at 3 a.m. GMT. Even Papa John sleeps.
And even if British fans took to American football, it will be tough fielding a team when half of the players are getting deported, because the NFL has a little bit of a crime problem. As it is, franchises in America have their hands full keeping their players out of the pokey. Now take a team of the same high-strung, violent guys, feed them terrible food and keep them sleep-deprived and jetlagged for six months in a foreign country. The overtime that Scotland Yard is going to have to put in will be staggering.
Plus, every time a player goes on a TMZ-worthy party cruise or terrorizes a pub and ends up locked in the Tower of London, it’s going to be an international incident. Goodell and the NFL can barely grasp this country’s legal system. Now Roger is going to send general counsel Jeff Pash and Ted Wells in powdered wigs to get Josh Gordon out of the Old Bailey because he just tried to take a bushel of pot through customs? Good luck, barrister.
Bottom line: It’s fairly obvious that Goodell’s plan is to move the Jaguars to England, but it’s just repeating the same mistake over again. Expansion to Jacksonville looked promising at first but it ultimately ended up being a town that preferred the local product (college football) over what the NFL offered them. With a similar situation in London coupled with so many more negative variables than Jacksonville ever faced, only an irredeemable simpleton would regard expansion to England as anything other than a greed-driven pipe dream.
So naturally I expect to see Goodell and the Spice Girls opening the 2017 season in Wembley Stadium.
God Save the Queen.
Jaxson de Ville, the mascot of the Jacksonville Jaguars, abseils into the Wembley Stadium (Photo by Nicky Hayes/NFL UK – Pool /Getty Images)
Mike In Woburn, formerly known as Mike From Attleboro, is a regular caller to the Felger & Massarotti Show. You can find him on Twitter @MikeFromATown.