By Pat Yasinskas for TonySoftli.com
Here’s a little bit of advice for Roger Goodell: Just go ahead and do it.
You know you want to. In fact, you have wanted to do it since you became the NFL Commissioner – maybe even before that.
Move a team to London permanently. It’s one of your dreams and right now might be your last, best chance. The Rams and Chargers, two teams that had bad stadiums, have been allowed to move to Los Angeles. The Raiders will move to Las Vegas in a few years.
By my count, that will leave zero teams with stadium issues. You better act before it’s too late. Unless you want to go the route of expansion, which is difficult on many levels, you better act now. There really is only one option and it’s a pretty good one.
Move the Jacksonville Jaguars to London before they become good again in the cyclical NFL. Jacksonville’s stadium is in decent enough shape, but it has one problem – it almost never fills up.
That’s no knock on Jacksonville’s die-hard fans and there are a fair amount of them and they’re passionate and loyal. But the problem is Jacksonville is a small market and the Jaguars don’t draw a lot of fans when they’re losing. The bandwagon effect kicks in when they’re winning – but only a little.
The fact is the NFL made a mistake when it put an expansion team in Jacksonville in 1995. At the time, there were several options in bigger markets. But Carolina and Jacksonville got the expansion teams because they had better stadium plans that were ready to be executed immediately. Carolina has prospered at the box office, but Jacksonville has not.
It’s time to fix the problem that was created in 1995 and Goodell has given subtle and not-so-subtle hints for years that he would like a team in London. Why?
It’s a huge, untapped market and Goodell recognizes that with the Rams, Chargers and Raiders taken care of, there isn’t a lot of room for growth. Where are you going to put a team in the U.S.? Sacramento? San Antonio? They wouldn’t work.
London just might. Goodell has been dipping his toes in the water by putting regular-season games in London since 2007. This year, he’s got his whole leg across the Atlantic Ocean with four regular-season games abroad. The first comes Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens play the Jaguars at Wembley Stadium. Goodell already has been testing this scenario with them playing one “home’’ game in London each year since 2013.
It sure looks like Goodell has telegraphed his next move. But he still has plenty of hurdles to clear. Although U.K. fans have turned out in force for every game that has been played there, it remains to be seen if they would support a team through a whole season.
Remember, soccer – is by far – the biggest sport in the U.K. When I went there a few years back to cover the Chargers and Saints, I was kind of amazed by what I saw when I went into a pub for dinner. There were several televisions tuned to soccer and some fans were listening to games on transistor radios, the way you picture American baseball fans listening to baseball in the 1940s and ‘50s.
I was further amazed by what I saw on game day. The crowd didn’t know when to cheer and when not to cheer. The biggest applause came when the cheerleaders were shown on the scoreboard. There’s little doubt fans in the U.K. would become more interested in football if they get a team. But would it be enough for the game to really catch on?
Then, of course, there is the biggest issue of all. In the case of real estate, the old saying is “location, location and location’’. For a football team in the U.K. that saying would change to “logistics, logistics and logistics’’.
That’s what the NFL hasn’t totally figure out and it’s going to be a serious hurdle. There would be no easy road trips for teams visiting the U.K. New England is probably the closest existing franchise and that’s a five- or six-hour flight. There would be no easy road trips for teams visiting the U.K. Imagine Seattle or one of the Los Angeles teams having to make the trip to the U.K? They would be at a huge disadvantage and the NFL Players Association likely would have something to say about that.
There has been preliminary speculation that a U.K. team could play back-to-back home games and back-to-back road games to lessen the travel burden. Would that be enough? Probably not. It might make sense for the U.K. team to also have a practice facility in the U.S.
There are plenty of reasons why it doesn’t make good sense to put a permanent team in the U.K. But there have been lots of reports in the last few weeks that Goodell soon will get a contract extension. Anybody want to bet that we don’t see the London Jaguars by the end of Goodell’s next contract?
About the author: Pat Yasinskas is currently a graduate student and freelance writer living in Tampa, Fla. He will be writing occasional columns for TonySoftli.com this season. He previously was a full-time writer for ESPN.com, The Charlotte Observer and The Tampa Tribune.