Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

IPPOLITO: London Calling as NFL Looks to Grow

On Sunday, the NFL created a dangerous but exciting possibility for its business and for its globally growing fan base. This past weekend marked the second of three games this season played at Wembley Stadium in London, featuring an unusually exciting game between the playoff-caliber Detroit Lions (6-2) and the low-flying Atlanta Falcons (2-6).

Although the Lions won on a last-second field goal, it was also notable that any American with a television set and the desire to wake up a bit early on a Sunday morning could watch it. Instead of kicking off at the usual 1 p.m. start time, the Falcons and Lions began at 9:30 a.m. on the East Coast and 6:30 a.m. on the West.

The NFL seems to be establishing a legitimate fan base internationally based on attendance at these London games. Aside from 2011, every game played in London since the international series started in 2007 has attracted over 81,000 fans. Strong and consistent attendance figures also show that the quality of the teams and the play does not seem to matter all that much.

While it is difficult to make predictions in April when schedules are finalized, it was probably a relatively safe bet that the Raiders and Jaguars, two of this year’s participants in the series, were going to be far from legitimate contenders. Yet English fans are still willing to spend their time and money watching bad teams and bad matchups. The NFL knows it has a captive audience that will consume any product placed before it.

But although it may make great business sense for the NFL to expand the international series and eventually have a team based out of London, this is a mistake and it should refrain from doing so. By giving its fan and consumer base more of what it wants, the NFL grows more powerful, but it experiences less pressure for the structural change it needs.

The possibility of a franchise based overseas has been met with a very warm political reception as well. Last week, Great Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne held talks with the NFL about eventually bringing a team to play in London permanently. Obsorne was quoted as saying that “anything the government can do to make this happen we will do because I think it would be a huge boost to London.”

Herein lies the danger. The NFL already has massive political influence here in the United States and is the recipient of many old, unnecessary tax breaks. Despite the legal trouble its players and executives continually seem to find themselves in, the league’s power has not diminished.

Osborne’s quote implies that Britain would be willing to give the NFL similar advantages and special treatment. Such an act would further legitimize the NFL’s current system of arbitrary punishment while giving it fresh streams of revenue. The myriad benefits for the NFL decrease any incentive for self-reform itself because they are being rewarded despite their abject failure to uphold the social responsibility that they possess.

Moreover, scheduling would be a huge obstacle. By all indications, the NFL does not plan to expand the number of teams beyond its current number of 32. Doing so would disrupt the current format of four teams per division and four divisions per conference.

Proponents of a London franchise propose that the team’s home and road games can just be played consecutively, with the team spending half the year in London and half the year in the United States. However, the players have families back in the States, and suggesting that they spend over two months isolated from their families is not what this league, which has struggled to deal with domestic abuse issues, should be advocating.

Furthermore, there could be an issue with player discipline. Last week the Lions sent defensive tackle C.J. Cosley home from London, suspending him two weeks for a violation of team rules. Although no specifics were given, the situation poses interesting questions as to what would happen with player discipline given the necessity of overseas travel and working under a different legal system.

Finally, some players would just refuse to play. Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth stated over the summer that he would rather retire than play for a London-based team. As the Bengals’ representative to the NFL Players’ Association, he feels a majority of players would dislike playing for a London franchise. The last thing the NFL needs to add to its list of problems is labor issues, especially given the negative public image of Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league’s inaction on concussions and various long-term injuries, which has already caused a rift with the players.

While 14 hours of football every Sunday might be every couch potato’s dream, this dream should go unrealized. Although it’s great that the NFL wants to share America’s game with the world, the status quo is much preferable to bringing London into the picture.

Mike Ippolito is a sophomore in the College. The Water Cooler appears every Tuesday.

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