The London Rams? NFL Announcement Sends Fans Into Frenzy Over UK Franchise Rumours
London might be about to get a new football team.
The other football.
News that the St Louis Rams American football team will visit the UK for three years in a row to play games at Wembley, sparking rumours the NFL franchise might eventually move to London.
The NFL said in a statement that the team will play the New England Patriots at Wembley on 28 October, and will return in 2013 and 2014 for further games.
Wembley will be decked out in Rams colours (gold and blue) for the occasion, and the matchup will officially be labelled a "home" game.
The NFL said the decision was "unprecedented", and follows five years of sell-out NFL league games hosted at the London stadium.
"The response to NFL games in the UK among our British fans has been exceptional," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "We are confident that having the Rams host one game in the UK in each of the next three seasons will allow us to better serve the growing popularity of our sport beyond the borders of the United States."
NFL owners approved a resolution in October to allow London games to be hosted until 2016. All clubs were asked to volunteer to play at least one regular-season game in the UK on an annual basis, and the Rams' proposal was selected.
"This is a tremendous honour for our franchise, the city of St Louis and our fans throughout the world," said Rams owner E Stanley Kroenke, who is also majority shareholder of Arsenal FC, in a statement.
"We are excited about the opportunity to reach new audiences globally. This is a great platform to showcase the city of St Louis to London and the UK.
For those who want to see it, perhaps, the NFL's announcement of three Rams home games at Wembley is evidence the team could one day cross the pond.
As soon as the announcement was made Twitter began to buzz with speculative rumours that the team may eventually move to London permanently.
"So St. Louis Rams will host #nfl games in London for the next 3 seasons? Are we heading for the first international franchise?" asked one NFL fan. Many dozens of others wondered the same.
So how likely is it that London will get its own American football team?
It's not imposible. Due to NFL rules the franchise will be able to move cities in 2014 following their last scheduled London game, if their home stadium is not declared one of the top 8 in the NFL - and the fact that Kroenke is a majority owner of Arsenal FC is likely to give the rumours a boost.
"When do #LondonRams change their colors to red and white?" asked one fan on Twitter, referring to the Arsenal link.
London is also no stranger to American football. Aside from the five International Series games, who can forget the London Monarchs, who played in the NFL Europe and World League Of American Football between 1991 and 1998?
Don't get your hopes us too high, however. The possibility that the Rams could move to London is still thought to be very slim.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has previously hinted that a team could theoretically move to London one day, but has otherwise remained tight-lipped on the subject.
Many UK fans are also dedicated followers of other NFL teams, and any franchise that moved to the UK would have to work hard to convince them to switch (hence, perhaps, the series of Rams games at Wembley).
"As good as it would be to have a franchise so close to home, I can't really see how they would field a competitive team with that sort of travelling involved," one NFL fan Matt Richardson told the Huffington Post UK. "Good idea in theory, but would probably make for worse football in practice."
More importantly, the city of Los Angeles is currently without an NFL team and it has long been speculated that if the Rams were to move anywhere it would be there.
The Rams were previously based in Los Angeles between 1946 and 1994, and still enjoy a large fan base in the West Coast.
In addition the decision to play regular games in London has not been universally popular in the US, particularly among players who say that the disruption of the eight-hour flight is unfair on the visiting team.
Sceptics will also point out that the city of St Louis is also keen to retain control of the franchise - and is scheduled to make proposals to upgrade the stadium in February.
Owner Kroenke too has diplomatically expressed his continuing support for the city.
"I've been around here a long time," Kroenke told Yahoo Sports this week. "Contrary to a lot of reports, I haven't taken a lot of jack out of the market. I have put a lot of jack into the market. We'll see how that process works out."
Even if the Rams do move to London, UK fans shouldn't get too excited. The Rams were one of the worst-performing teams in 2011, and have recently hired a new head coach to try and turn things around.
So for now the idea that the Rams will move to London remains little more than speculation...
But don't be too surprised if American football becomes a little less American by 2015.