Ever since the National Football League approved the sale of the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise to Pakistani-born American billionaire Shahid Khan last December there has been much speculation that he would move the team. After all with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and powerful team owner Robert Kraft amping up London as their favored expansion venue the Jaguars, with their strong brand name connection to the prestigous upmarket automobile seems to be a natural fit.
The Jaguars currently boast the worst record among all NFL teams. But the St. Louis Rams, who showed up in London five days early to shake off the jetlag from a 10 hour flight played like Jacksonville, getting blown out 45-7 by Kraft's New England Patriots in the NFL's London Bowl before 84,000 fans at Wembley.
The game looked more like a friendly than a regular season game where teams battle for playoff spots. And that sort of lopsided play, lacking competition and excitement, is not the way to build a fanbase for American football in Britain or Europe, for that matter. If the Jaguars do move to London, how long would fans pay for the privilege of watching eight home games featuring a down market team that remains a work in progress? Yet at 50 to 149 pounds a ticket the Independent still puffed up the mantra that the NFL is here to stay.
If this sort of a 'snoozer' game would happen in the Premiere League fans, sports pundits and bloggers would be calling for relegation of the weak teams. But in the 32 team National Football League, relegation does not exist and sometimes teams like the Indianapolis Colts develop a strategy of losing as many games as possible in a season in order to get the top pick in the annual draft.
US sports zine Bleacher Report has examined in depth the pros and cons of bringing a NFL franchise to London. But little has been said about the biggest potential drawback about the move from the British perspective, namely, what if the Premier League, its owners and fans and financial and marketing partners are comfortable having two or three NFL showcase games played at Wembley, or other venues in the spirit of preserving the integrity and value of the Premier League business model and FIFA football in England.
Because the NFL is exempt from anti-trust laws that regulate commerce and competition granted by the US Congress, the league is able to operate a unique system of sports world socialism that shares revenue from TV deals, product royalties, and other licensing and marketing arrangements, subsidizing the weaker teams who do not need to worry about being relegated to a lower league due to poor performance
While Premier League play is developing a harder edge, especially with play off the ball, the NFL is becoming patently violent, with more players suffering concussions from hits that are amped up by announcers, and shown over and over again on video replays. A league investigation recently uncovered a 'bounty hit' system that was operated by coaches of the Super Bowl winning New Orleans Saints. Players were given bounties according to NFL investigators, for a 'cart off' causing a player from an opposing team to leave the field and not return to the game.
What the investigation did not discuss in detail is that players were given bigger bounties to injure opponents during playoff games.
While playing for the Arizona Cardinals, former St. Louis Rams Super Bowl winning quarterback Kurt Warner was forced to reture in 2010 after being concussed on a 'bounty hit' from a New Orleans Saints player during a critical playoff game. The media played up the fact that it was a clean hit and not a "bounty hit."
Having spoken out against the violence Warner says he has the sense that many NFL players now think he is a traitor for sharing his feelings. The future Hall of Fame quarterback is also on the record saying he wants his kids to play soccer, not American football.
If the NFL finds the right formula to base a franchise in London it will be a long time before the quality of play and crucial path to the Super Bowl games will fall victim to the bounty system Warner thinks has been around for a long time.
After three decades of dickering and bickering the NFL is still unable to place a franchise in Los Angeles, the nation's number two sports market, that was abandoned by a clever, renegade owner. This considered, perhaps London may well be a franchise too far.