There have been many reports recently that the question of London having an NFL team is now a matter of when, not if. Commissioner Roger Goodell said last Tuesday that the NFL was looking to add a third regular season game at Wembley, with the Jacksonville Jaguars maybe hosting two of them.
From sources within the NFL, it now seems everyone is gearing towards having a new franchise in London. There are many problems that will need to be solved before this can happen, logistical problems for example.
There seems to be one issue that is on most UK fans minds though. Can we support another team?
Goodell isn't wrong when he says that the UK is hungry for more NFL games. The speed in which tickets sell out every year shows you that we are willing to pay up to watch American football here. But do we just want to see the game or can we come round to supporting a side, week in, week out?
I saw a comment on twitter from someone saying that fans "won't drop our teams for a London team". I can almost guarantee that 99% of NFL fans have a team they already support. When Wembley hosts a game every season the whole crowd is awash with jerseys from every team. We live and die by our teams, so would we really give up supporting our side just because there is one locally? If we had done that before we would all be Miami Dolphins fans surely?
Well, I see it this way.
The International Series has seen many teams act as the home team at Wembley and every one of them has had the support of the Wembley crowd. You could argue that the St Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven't had quite the same support against the popular New England Patriots, but for every Patriot fan there is a fan who hates them.
I don't think it is a matter of if we would go to the games, of course we would it's NFL football for fans from London right into Europe. But what about the support we have for the teams we already follow?
I like to think that we would initially be like the way many football (soccer) fans are. The majority of people support a Premier League club like Manchester United or Chelsea. But there are a huge number of people who watch their local sides be it a team in League Two or non-league football.
For example I am a Chelsea fan (long term, since birth!), yet my local side is Dagenham and Redbridge. I do go to see the Daggers play and follow them. My uncle is a Manchester United fan (again long term, since birth, is actually from Manchester!) but is a member at Dagenham and follows them home and away. I have seen it first hand, people attending non-league games whilst following the score for their Premier League side. This is how it will be for a lot of people.
We will all carry on supporting the Patriots, Bears, Packers etc but we will support our local side and cheer them on as our team. Whilst this will happen one thing we know is that we aren't the future of NFL in the UK.
Long time followers of the game are being rewarded with international games now and the prospect of a team here. How many of us were extremely happy to have just a regular season game in our country, let alone a string of them.
But the future fan base lies in two groups of people. The newcomers and the young.
The London team will eventually grab the attention of non-followers as the game gets more exposure. Like us fans who have been following the game for years, they will start to pick up the rules and eventually enjoy watching it. The big difference is that when it comes to picking a team they will have the option of their local side.
For a lot of us though, we will go to London games and be a fan of the other teams as well as the new London team.
The aim will be to have a team here for many years to come. As we grow older watching and attending London games we will bring our children and grandchildren along, like everyone does with their football teams. These kids will become London supporters. They won't have to pick a team out of a hat or wait till a certain player influences them or even have a family member bring them back a souvenir to get a team to support. They will say they are London fans because they will be going to their games.
This is why I have no worries about a London franchise having a proper fan base. The seeds will be planted for a strong franchise from the owner right down to the average fan.
The logistics can be solved. The city is capable of having a franchise. The fan base is there. For anyone who isn't sure, from both sides of the pond, we are not to worry. The game has changed in so many ways over the years and there has always been an outcry from people thinking it is wrong. Well I can tell you it's going to change a lot more in the future. We have to accept change and embrace it, for the better of the game.Suggest a correction