Roger Goodell deserves credit for one thing: he’s not afraid to push anybody around. In his short tenure as Commissioner, he’s already made examples of Chris Henry, Pacman Jones, and Chad Ochocinco as targets of heavy punishment, and doubtless there are plenty of NFL players more carefully toeing the party line for it.
What he hasn’t done as much, though, is go after the underperforming franchises in the league. That seems likely to change, though, considering the slumping monetary performance of so many teams and the resultant threats of blackout and relocation.
But threatening to put a team in London? Soon? Yikes.
Here’s what Goodell told Dan Patrick earlier today, via PRO FOOTBALL TALK:
“It’s realistic to me that we would play multiple games in London, regular-season games, maybe as early as next year,” Goodell said. “And if that continues to have the same kind of reaction, a team playing in London on a regular basis is a real possibility.”
The problem is this: the market’s not there. Oh, London’s got a giant honking market, mind you, but it’s not an NFL market. Their sports attentions are already saturated, mostly through soccer, rugby, soccer, cricket, and an assload more soccer.
It’d be like, ohIdunno, putting an NHL team in Phoenix. Certainly no commissioner would ever… oh. Never mind.
Indeed, the true test of the health of a franchise isn’t how they do when they perform well. It’s how much money they make during the lean years. If the London Broils or whatever they call the team go 2-14 and 5-11 in their first two years, do you think anybody’s going to stick around to keep watching? Hell, the NFL tried football in Europe for many years, and having the “shield” attached to the league didn’t guarantee success; NFL Europa shuttered two years ago, disappointing literally tens of fans.
Ambition’s fine and all, but Goodell would be utterly foolish to think that the excitement generated by one-off exhibitions in London, which are hyped far beyond what regular season games get here, would translate into sustained interest over a season (or, more pertinently, a decade of seasons). There’s no football tradition in London - well, they’ve got their football and they love it to death, it’s just that their football’s a little bit different. But in terms of the fans who love the sport because they grew up watching it and going to the games with their dad back in the day? It’s not there, and that’s where the foothold for success is.
No, if the NFL really wants to get the game started in Europe, it’ll fund tons of youth programs as an alternative to soccer. The programs don’t necessarily need the NFL branded all over it - though the NFL will do that anyway, because they really miss the point when it comes to expansion; the key is to get the kids playing American football and familiar with it. Once parents start seeing their kids playing the sport, and then some kids being better than others, the need for a higher level of competition will arise. Then another one. Onward and upward.
Simply plopping an NFL franchise in the middle of a foreign country, though, is a recipe for failure, and we’d like to think Goodell wouldn’t be so foolish as to start digging such a money pit.