The first of two National Football League (NFL) International Series games has been played at Wembley this past weekend, and as usual, discussion turns to whether an NFL team could be based in London.
One issue frequently cited is the competition for fans with other sports. With the capital already hosting athletics, cricket, rugby and several football teams during the year, is there really space for another sport? And will the NFL, with it’s glitz and swagger, have a negative effect on other parts of the London sports map?
One man who doesn’t think it will be a problem is Phil Alexander, chief executive at Crystal Palace. The influence of American football is something Alexander has plenty of first hand experience with: in 1991 he led the London Monarchs in points scored as they won the inaugural World League of American Football (WLAF)
Speaking before the first of the International Series games last week, he told me that rather than causing greater competition, the addition of an NFL franchise in London could offer local teams a wider audience to target:
“There could be a lot of cross-over activities to be had. I think if you’ve got a customer who wants to go and see live events they’re happy to go to more types of events.
“I think there’s room for another sport like American football in this country. I don’t think it would have any effect.”
He also moved to dismiss concerns whether the London sports scene would be over-saturated:
“No, because I don’t think the American football fans will come just from London. They’ll come from all over the UK and Europe. They would travel for that.
“Our catchment area’s very local, we’re looking at south London primarily, where I feel the American football would pull from a lot further afield. “
And if the league can continue to attract fans from across Europe to Wembley, then the increased number of fans that might be tempted to see London-based teams could benefit teams like Palace.
Fulham are, of course, the other team who could look to benefit from the NFL foot traffic, given their links to the Jaguars.
While the likeliness of the Jags moving to London any time soon is small (they would have to pay $100 million to get out of their lease in Florida before 2030) they are certainly in prime position to try and develop a UK fan base, given their ties to Fulham through their shared owner.
Cross-promotion, special offers and the increased marketing opportunities that the Jaguars enjoy in the UK (they can market the team as they would in their local region, unlike any other NFL side) could give them a real opportunity to grow their support. Being able to promote with and through Fulham at the same time could help them to tap into that customer base that Alexander mentioned.
English football on Saturday at Craven Cottage, American football on Sunday at Wembley. Premier League and the NFL, back to back. That’s a strong combination, and could be used as a draw for fans of both the round and oval ball games.