For most Patriots fans, this Sunday won’t be different from any other during the season. Sure, the team will be over in London, but the TV, couch and buffalo wings will all be in the same place once 1 p.m. rolls around.
But much hoopla is being made this week regarding European expansion for the NFL. Commissioner Roger Goodell said there won’t be a Super Bowl in London until there is a franchise there. Patriots owner Robert Kraft said that’s a very real possibility.
Tom Brady, who said he walked around London without any English residents recognizing him four years ago, didn’t seem overly excited about the concept when speaking with the media in London on Friday.
“That’d be some hell of some road trips,” he said. “That would be challenging — hey, whatever the league needs to do, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”
Bill Belichick was supportive enough, adding, “Whatever the league wants to do.”
Before everyone starts ordering tickets for the 2014 game against the Frankfurt Fire, the question needs to be asked: Does Europe care about American football?
Remember the NFL Europe? The only thing that league was good for was leveling the playing field while playing Madden.
And now, with the three-time Super Bowl champion Patriots in London for a game, you might think the sports pages would be all over it. In actuality, the average sports fan in England might not even be aware of the game.
The Guardian’s top sports stories include a healthy dose of soccer stories — obviously — but also a good mix of pommel horse, Formula One and cricket features.
The London Evening Standard has a feature story on an Olympic hopeful skier from England, but has nothing on the NFL’s impending invasion of Europe.
The Sun has the right idea, luring Brits to American football with a “story” on the Tampa Bay cheerleaders, though visiting the site might get you in trouble at work. Plus, even that link sits almost at the bottom of the page.
The only story the British seemed to be interested in is Kraft’s interest in purchasing a soccer team, a story only revisited due to his presence in England.
All of that is not to say that the residents of England won’t enjoy the game. League spokesman Greg Aiello said the game is a sellout, with more than 85,000 folks on hand. (Though this British ticket agency is using a photo of Reggie Bush to promote the game.)
Still, the NFL’s success in America is based largely in the fact that it’s covered so completely by the media. A photo spread of cheerleaders is enough to get people to look, but it isn’t to keep them watching and it isn’t enough to sustain a league.
The whole situation is somewhat comparable to the AC Milan-Inter Milan match at Gillette Stadium this past July. There were 42,000 fans in the seats, but ask the average Bostonian to name the teams that appeared, and he might not even know the game took place.
Of course, none of this necessarily means that European expansion would be a guaranteed failure, but there are enough issues stateside (like getting Los Angeles a team, perhaps) that could use some ironing out before the Hamburg Hammers and London Monarchs end up in the AFC (Very) East.