The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union won’t have an immediate impact on the NFL and NBA’s business efforts in the region. But any lingering economic weakness brought on by Friday’s shocking referendum result could affect the long-term expansion strategy of the United States’ most globally-minded professional sports leagues.
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About 52% of the referendum’s participants voted to leave the European Union in a result that shocked the political establishment and shook global markets. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 500 points in response to the decision, while the British pound’s value plummeted to its lowest level since 1985. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who opposes Brexit, resigned from his post after the vote, effective in October.
The NBA and the NFL have each identified international expansion as a key element of their efforts to build revenue and develop their fan bases. The NFL will play three regular-season games in London in 2016, with plans to expand its U.K. series to at least five games per season across three stadiums by 2018. NFL officials have identified London as a potential home for a new franchise at some point in the future.
The NFL declined FOXBusiness.com’s request for comment on what Brexit will mean for the league’s plans in the United Kingdom. But the three regular-season games remain in place for the 2016 NFL season, and most of the ticket sales, sponsorships deals and licensing agreements for those games are already in place.
NBA officials declined to comment on Brexit’s potential implications. But the league played its sixth-ever regular season game in London last season and has aggressively expanded into other international markets, including Africa and China. Officials have yet to confirm if the NBA will return to the United Kingdom for the 2016-17 season, but Brexit won’t affect plans for future games in the region, a source with knowledge of the situation told FOXBusiness.com.
It’s too early to say how the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union will impact the region’s economy. But long-term volatility could cause the NFL and NBA to reconsider their efforts in a country that American sports leagues have long considered a gateway to Europe. A full-fledged economic recession and weak British pound would make it difficult for the NFL or NBA to sell tickets to Londoners or negotiate sponsorship deals with domestic corporations.
“If it were to prove to be the case that England were to go into a severe recession, it would certainly make playing basketball or football games in England less profitable and desirable for a U.S. professional sports league,” said Marc Edelman, a sports business expert and associate professor of law at Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business.
While NFL officials have never established a clear timeline for when the league would be ready to place a permanent team in London, evidence of a struggling economy would likely scare off the 32 team owners, who would only approve relocation or expansion if it provided a clear boost to the league’s bottom line.
“If the NFL were planning to add an expansion team in England, and in between the point in time when the plans commence and the sale of the franchise is consummated, the British economy went into a severe recession, the NFL overall may be able to secure less money for the sale of that franchise,” Edelman said.