American football has made major strides overseas in the last decade, with the NFL leading the charge in spreading the sport beyond the United States.
One needs to look no further than Sunday’s final London game of the 2018 season, between the defending world champion Philadelphia Eagles and the 2017 AFC finalist Jacksonville Jaguars, to see how much international interest has grown.
But as tens of thousands of fans pick up a different form of football and pay more attention to the helmeted athlete, the ultimate event isn’t headed their way soon. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made that clear, with good reason, during a Saturday morning appearance on Good Morning Football Weekend.
"That’s been talked about a lot," Goodell said of the idea of bringing the Super Bowl to London. "But the ownership really feels strongly that that’s a reward for our fans. I think if you had a franchise here, I think it would come into play. I think without a franchise it’s probably difficult."
So if the horse is a franchise and the cart is the Super Bowl, how close might we be to establishing a team overseas?
"I’ve always said this in the last few years: I believe that the fan base is here for a team," Goodell said. "Just in numbers and passion, I think the business community/commercial community is strong enough. The political support we have for this is extraordinary. I think all of those elements are here. The one I’m still not comfortable (with) yet is the competitive side. How do we do this to not only be fair to the team that’s playing here, but the teams that have to come over to play?
"Where it’s most challenging in my view is in the playoffs, because you can’t really plan for that. So we could probably work the schedule in a fair way during the season, but when you get to the postseason it could be unfair to a team — if Seattle had to come over here for a playoff game — that’s a tough one. So we’ve got to find an answer to that. But other than that, I’m perfectly comfortable with this market and the size and passion for football. We wouldn’t have a problem."
Some teams manage to counter the in-season travel issues associated with flying across the Atlantic Ocean by following the London trip with a bye week. It gives players adequate time to adjust their body clocks back to their home time zones and to rest and cover.
But the league can’t manufacture a bye week after a playoff matchup nearly a third of the world away, as Goodell gave as an example (Seattle to London) on Saturday, leaving logistics as the greatest hurdle to a London franchise.
In the meantime, though, the league will continue with the international games, both in London and Mexico City. A larger London slate is conceivable, though not yet agreed to, as fans turn out in droves for what locals have called one of the most sought-after tickets in entertainment.
"That’s how we grow the game, right?" Goodell said about the importance of the NFL in the United Kingdom. "Sharing the game, playing the game is the best way to grow it because they get to experience what it’s like to be in the stadium, and you can feel it around town. I’ve only been here 24 hours and you can feel the level of excitement, the anticipation and these fans really understand the game.
"My observation over the last 20, almost 30 years coming over here to watch NFL football is they are so smart about football. They are great football fans. They’re responding at the right time and that’s fun for us. That means we’re making a tremendous amount of progress."
Progress began with the Jacksonville Jaguars taking the lead, committing to an annual game in London. Those same Jaguars take the field Sunday against the Eagles in what the league hopes will be a marquee competition.
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