Last season, the lords of baseball made the bizarre and implausible decision to open the regular season in Tokyo, because I guess Cincinnati and Boston and St. Louis were all booked, and nothing screams tradition more than baseball, ramen and Camry.
We’ve also seen the NHL begin to play games overseas. This hockey season started in Prague and Stockholm. But half the players are from Prague and Stockholm, anyway, and not enough people in the U.S. care about hockey, so it wasn’t surprising to see Gary Bettman lunge for the koruny and kronor.
But the NFL?
This is the most powerful, profitable and successful league in sports. By any measurement. Even with the current economic slide, estimates put the NFL’s annual revenues in excess of $7.5 billion. Attendance for most games is at or near capacity. Multi-year television contracts total $20.4 billion.
Nineteen of 32 franchises are valued at over $1 billion, according to Forbes. The Value City of the 32 teams: the Minnesota Vikings, still full retail at $839 million.
But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reaffirmed this week that he wants to add more regular season games in England to the schedule. The matter will be discussed at league meetings next week, along with an expanded schedule.
If you’re going to become a sellout, England is a logical venue. The league still feels guilty about imposing NFL Europe on the country several years ago. Besides, Neptune hasn’t come up with a significant site fee, yet.
This isn’t about the product (for consecutive years, a London game has been played on a quagmire in Wembley Stadium).
This isn’t about the players (some from San Diego last year said they couldn’t fall asleep until 4 a.m. because of the time difference and had to get up for 8 a.m. meetings.)
This isn’t about coaches or general managers, who thrive on the structure of an NFL game week during the season. And it’s certainly not about a team’s fans or that city’s economy, given the loss of a home game from the schedule.
This is greed, pure and simple. There’s nothing wrong with globalization and seeking out new revenue streams, even if in the long-term. But pursuing those things at the expense of fans, employees, local economies and the game is wrong, particularly when it’s a league that isn’t starved for finances or attention.
And, no: We don’t want cricket, warm beer or the Arsenal-Manchester United game as compensation.
London hosted regular season games the last two years. NFL senior vice president Greg Aiello said Goodell “is sensitive to [the criticism], and that’s why it’s being done on an extremely limited basis.”
He added: “It’s trying to bring the game to new fans in an intelligent and limited way.”
New Orleans coach Sean Payton used a lot of words to describe his team’s experience in London last year. “Intelligent” was not one of them. The Saints “home” game against San Diego was sandwiched between three road games and a bye. The team went six weeks between games in New Orleans.
Payton criticized the travel, the playing conditions and added, “It’s hard for me to say it’s a great experience and a great thing for your club. … It isn’t for [New Orleans]. It isn’t for the local economy. It’s not for anyone.”
The Saints won the game. Imagine if they had lost.
There was a report in London last week that the Super Bowl could be played there soon. Aiello denied that, saying the officials sought information from the league on what it would take, but that such a move isn’t on the radar.
Is he closing the door to the Super Bowl ever being moved overseas?
“Well, you never say, ‘’Never, ever,’” he said.
At $7.5 billion per year, maybe you should.