NFL to touchdown in London

04 February 2016

The NFL season is reaching its climax with the Denver Broncos preparing to take on the Carolina Panthers on 7 February in the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl Sunday is the second largest day of food consumption in the US after Thanksgiving with a staggering 13m kg of chips, 1.25bn chicken wings and 3.6m kg of guacamole being consumed during the game. One person certain to be gleefully tucking into a large portion of buffalo wings on the 7th  is London Mayor, and potential future Conservative party leader, Boris Johnson who recently revealed that London is "working hard on a deal" to bring an NFL franchise to London.

In years gone by the Super Bowl has largely flown under the radar in the UK. This is despite the fact that rights to show this event are amongst the most expensive in world sport, costing a reported $300m last year, with 30-second TV advertising slots during the event being sold at up to $4.5m. Indeed in 2007 the NFL was only the 18th most watched sport on SKY.

Therefore it is unsurprising that in 2007, the NFL made decided to target the UK's lucrative and largely untapped market. The organisation started an international series in London, which saw two teams travelling to Wembley to play an NFL game. This coincided with the NFL making an announcement that they expected London to have its own NFL Franchise by the year 2021.

Since that point the NFL's popularity has grown year on year in the UK. The international series has now expanded from one game a year to three, with each game selling out almost immediately. American Football is now up to 6th in the SKY rankings and participation over the same period has increased by an average of 15% year on year.  The NFL now has a significant and growing fan base in the UK – reported to be more than 13m, including 2.8m avid fans. This represents an increase of 30% in the last two years.    

This increased following, together with the ambitious plans of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to double the sport’s revenues to $25bn (about £16bn) by 2027, has made the case for a UK-based franchise even more compelling. Indeed, NFL spokesman Mark Waller confirmed last month that the UK is "on track" to have its own NFL franchise in the next six years. This represents the clearest indication yet that the UK is the sporting organisation's number one priority for expansion.

A London franchise is not just an opportunity for the NFL to expand its international reach: it will also have far reaching, positive economic impacts for the UK. A 2014 NFL-backed Deloitte report suggested that a team could generate a direct annual economic impact of £102m from the eight home games a year, including over £70m in spectator spending. These figures are based on a conservative estimate of only 600,000 fans attending the games. In addition, the report suggested that it could have a wider impact on the UK economy of as much as £96m.

Given the above, it is no surprise that last year Chancellor George Osborne decreed that "anything the government can do to make this happen we will do because I think it would be a huge boost to London". He went on to say that a London expansion would "cement London as a global sporting capital as well as a global financial and business and cultural capital".

The practical changes of having a team situated across the Atlantic and a five to eight hour time difference is worrying many supporters of the idea. Further, a franchise in London will also present significant legal challenges including from both a tax and immigration perspective. These are just a few of the myriad of practical and legal hurdles facing any potential London franchise  It remains to be seen how the NFL will go about negotiating  these hurdles but with willingness from both sides none of these challenges should prove insurmountable. This, however, is probably a discussion best left for another day and in the meantime perhaps the best thing to do is grab a beer and a buffalo wing and join Boris in front of the game!

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