NFL 'nearer than ever' to permanent London team, exec says

The NFL’s top international executive said the United Kingdom is ready to support a permanent team across the pond – if the league’s 32 owners give the green light.

The league kicks off its 2018 International Series on Sunday when the Seattle Seahawks face the Oakland Raiders at Wembley Stadium in London, in the first of three games the NFL will play in the U.K. this season. For the first time, the games will occur on three consecutive weekends, as league officials test infrastructure to gather insight on how a permanent London-based team’s schedule could work.

“We are definitely nearer than ever,” Mark Waller, the NFL’s executive vice president of international, told The Guardian. “The keys for the NFL are: first, is there fan demand to sustain it, and for me the answer is a clear yes. And second, do we have the stadium capacity, availability and optionality to accommodate our games? The fact there is Wembley, Tottenham and Twickenham ticks that box. Having support from sponsors and the government is vital too.”

The NFL’s U.K. slate has expanded from a single game in 2007 to an annual slate of several games across multiple stadiums. League officials have identified the NFL’s international expansion as a key revenue driver as it looks to achieve $25 billion in annual revenue by 2027.

American football has grown in popularity in the U.K., with roughly four million British residents identifying as “avid fans,” according to NFL statistics. Though NFL games have traditionally been played at Wembley, the league has rights to hold games at three stadiums, including a brand-new facility that will house the Tottenham Hotspur of the Premier League, the U.K.’s top soccer league.

Waller told FOX Business in 2017 that the NFL aims to eventually host a full state of eight games in London each year, or the equivalent of a permanent team’s full home schedule. Shahid Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, is attempting to buy Wembley Stadium to establish a permanent foothold in the region.

The NFL will have to navigate logistical hurdles if it opts to place a team in London full-time, including a brutal travel schedule and the difficult task of recruiting top players to play for a franchise in another country.

“I think the bigger issues with a London franchise are over attracting the top talent and how players manage families if they are coming over three or four weeks at a time. But I am really comfortable that those things will get solved,” Waller told The Guardian.