American Football: Touchdown London

As the NFL return for a guest appearance at Wembley, the prospect of a franchise based in the capital is increasing

The largest crowd at any UK sports event this weekend will watch the St Louis Rams play the New England Patriots at Wembley this evening, the sixth National Football League regular-season game to be played here. But American Football has ambitions for London beyond a single annual showpiece, with two Wembley games already on the calendar for next season.

And with a number of NFL officials talking of an eventual London franchise, perhaps even more significant is the announcement that the Jacksonville Jaguars will play a "home" game at Wembley in each of the next four seasons. Is this a team who struggle to sell out their stadium testing the water for a permanent move from north-east Florida to north-west London? Don't print the London Jaguars T-shirts just yet, says Alistair Kirkwood, the managing director of NFL UK.

"I can understand the logic, but it needs to be seen as more basic than that," he explains. "First we had to prove that London games could work for players and fans. Going to two games is another step. Jacksonville coming for four games tests the theory that a returning team is something that fans will latch on to.

"Rather than having an impact on the Jaguars' future, it's more that we're doing something else that hasn't been done before so we can get new insights. It allows us to plan over a longer term and build more of a presence rather than a team just coming over in October and then disappearing."

The alternative to relocating a team is creating an expansion franchise – a completely new club with a roster put together from free agents, college graduates and players from existing teams – but expansion teams can take a decade to become competitive.

Whether London gains by relocation or expansion, it will still leave those American cities without NFL franchises, such as San Antonio and Los Angeles, asking: "Why them before us?"

What has seldom been questioned is that London would be the logical location for the first step outside the US. "The language does help, and this is a much bigger sports market than anywhere else in Europe, with a greater consumption of multiple sports, not just the top three or four," Kirkwood says. "It's a territory a lot of NFL people know, and the fact that we did so well in the 1980s proves that it can become big in this market again. It's not as if we were trying to grow cricket in the United States, where you couldn't point to anything done in the past."

Steven Jackson, the Rams star running back, agrees. "To grow, the NFL has to go outside the States, and London has the ability to support a successful franchise," he says. "Now it is just the technicalities, the logistics, the scheduling, immigration. And you'd have to pay tax here, you'd need a work visa. But it would make some players grow up – the appreciation of another culture and the way the world is."

So, when? "There isn't a time-scale," Kirkwood says. "You could not introduce a franchise until you knew you were completely sustainable and would fit in with what was happening within the US and the League as a whole. But if I had said in 2006 that we would play six regular-season games at Wembley, move to two games a year by 2013, and have a team commit to four visits, that would have sounded fanciful."

The NFL in London

Pre-season friendlies

1983 Minnesota 28 St Louis 10

1986 Chicago 17 Dallas 6

1987 LA Rams 28 Denver 27

1988 Miami 27 San Francisco 21

1989 Philadelphia 17 Cleveland 13

1990 New Orleans 17 LA Raiders 10

1991 Buffalo 17 Philadelphia 13

1992 San Francisco 17 Washington 15

1993 Dallas 13 Detroit 13

Regular-season games

2007 NY Giants 13 Miami 10

2008 San Diego 32 New Orleans 37

2009 New England 35 Tampa 7

2010 Denver 16 San Francisco 24

2011 Chicago 24 Tampa 18

2012 New England v St Louis 2013 (29 Sept) Pittsburgh v Minnesota; (27 Oct) San Francisco v Jacksonville

London has had a professional American football team before. In 1991, the London Monarchs were the first champions of the 12-team World League of American Football, staged in North America and Europe with players assigned and paid by the NFL. The Monarchs played in front of 40,000 crowds at Wembley, where they beat Barcelona Dragons 21-0 in the first World Bowl. But, after the league suspended operations for two seasons before returning in 1995 as a six-team European league, the London crowds dwindled. The team moved to White Hart Lane, Stamford Bridge and then a series of smaller venues as the England Monarchs in 1998, their final year. Their best-known graduate was quarterback Brad Johnson, who led Tampa Bay to victory in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Solution Architect - Contract

£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

360 Resourcing Solutions: Export Sales Coordinator

£18k - 20k per year: 360 Resourcing Solutions: ROLE: Export Sales Coordinato...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest developer of mobile...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue