Is the NFL ready for hooligans at games? Is London ready for American football? I think both are a resounding yes but that doesn’t mean a franchise is ready for London. After last weekend’s Patriots – Rams game in London there can be no doubt a team would be profitable in the UK. Robert Kraft seemingly stopped just short of announcing that the Patriot’s are moving from Boston to the UK, deep breaths Boston fans, this is not happening. Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft has been one of the most staunch supporters of moving a franchise to London. It seems that the 84,000 in attendance at Wembley Stadium agree with Robert Kraft. The event sold out and there seems to be little doubt that this would be a successful financial decision for the NFL, but there are three roadblocks to bust through before reaching London.
The most obvious is the travel week to week for playing in London, or the London franchise playing in the U.S. Right now every time a team plays in London, they have a bye week the following week to readjust. Even if you clustered every home game for the London team, there is no way that 8 home games could be played in London, with each opponent receiving a bye after they face the London team. Then the London team obviously could not receive a bye every time they travel to the U.S. for games. There are ideas that you could cluster away trips as 2 four-game trips or something of that nature, but that wouldn’t quite solve the issue. Not to mention, convincing new draft picks, current players, and free agents that the travel issue is worth living in a different country to play for that franchise.
The second is that there are still untapped markets in the North America that the NFL can and should tap into before sending a franchise across the pond. The most obvious market that is currently open is Los Angeles. This may be remedied in the coming years because of the constant progress being made to put a team in L.A. However, until that market is solved, London is on the back burner. There is also the question of putting a team in Canada. I believe this has just as much financial potential as a move to London without creating the intense travel problems associated with crossing the Atlantic for games. Finally, a much more difficult but still useful idea is a team based in Mexico City. I believe that until the first two (maybe all three) markets are captured by the NFL, London will not become a priority.
The last problem, which is hardly publicized and very little known, is a tax problem that exists in the U.K. for athletes that are not citizens of the UK. The entire problem is laid out here by Forbes. It can get pretty involved and complicated, but the general idea is that the UK taxes athletes that make money on UK soil and internationally for game checks as well as endorsement deals. Amazingly, this tax can be as high as 50% of income based on the amount of time that an athlete spends competing and practicing in the UK compared to abroad. This would be a huge problem in the NFL because of the fact that for the travel problem to be resolved, the London team would have to take extended stays in the U.S. for away games, including practice. Over the course of the season, they could spend close to half of their time in the U.S. for these trips, which would put athletes right up against the 50% tax on their sports related income. This would be completely unacceptable for ANY athlete and would make signing and luring free agents and draft picks completely impossible. We already see players prefer states with no income tax, hey there Lebron. I can only imagine how much players would avoid a tax of that magnitude. Luckily, the UK has shown that they will waive this tax in certain situations, but that is up to the UK government.
There are clearly problems in the way before the NFL can break into the UK, but I have no doubt I will be alive when a team makes it across the pond. The NFL is a money making machine, and it is only a matter of time before they attempt to go global. This could be done with an entire European division or a single team, but only time will tell. The London Royals are in our future.